Military contractor Raytheon’s disturbing Big Brother software trolls social networks to find out where you are and what you are doing

i-am-totally-aware-that-i-dont

It’s a disturbing vision, summoning up George Orwell’s “Big Brother.”

sfgate.com | Feb 12, 2013

by Caleb Garling and Benny Evangelista

Raytheon, a Massachusetts defense contractor, has built tracking software that pulls information from social networks, according to a video obtained by the Guardian newspaper in London.

The gist of the Guardian article:

“The Massachusetts-based company has acknowledged the technology was shared with U.S. government and industry as part of a joint research and development effort, in 2010, to help build a national security system capable of analyzing ‘trillions of entities’ from cyberspace.”

Using public data from Facebook, Twitter, Gowalla and Foursquare, the software – called RIOT, or Rapid Information Overlay Technology – apparently gathers uploaded information and forms a profile of a person’s every move that was registered with one of the websites.

The video obtained by the newspaper starts with a demonstration by Raytheon’s “principal investigator,” Brian Urch, showing how easy it is to track an employee named Nick – a real person – based on all the places he has checked in using his smartphone.

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“When people take pictures and post them on the Internet using their smartphones, the phone will actually embed the latitude and longitude in the header data – so we’re going to take advantage of that,” Urch says. “So now we know where Nick’s gone … and now we’ll predict where he’ll be in the future.”

Urch goes on to analyze – using graphs and calendars – where Nick likes to spend his personal time and make predictions about his behavior.

“If you ever wanted to get a hold of his laptop, you might want to visit the gym at 6 a.m. on Monday,” Urch says with alarming casualness.

It’s a disturbing vision, summoning up George Orwell’s “Big Brother.”

But it’s also a reminder that advertisers are not the only ones with interest in the reams of data that social networks collect about regular people. Consider: Had the CIA built a tool like Facebook, we’d probably all be terrified.

And all the tracking data this tool analyzes is provided voluntarily, by us. The satirical news site the Onion, always on point, once joked that the CIA’s “Facebook Program” had drastically cut its spying costs.

Users who enjoy posting their lives on computers they don’t control – i.e. those of Facebook, Twitter, Google, et al – should not be surprised when that data get out of their control. Some governments, like France, are doing what they can to keep an eye on how social-networking data are used, but at the end of the day, if we don’t want Facebook and Twitter using our data, we shouldn’t give that to them.

A final note: The Raytheon video features technology from 2010 – three years ago. No doubt the tracking software has come a long way since then.

One response to “Military contractor Raytheon’s disturbing Big Brother software trolls social networks to find out where you are and what you are doing

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