Monday, February 26, 2024

Defense Contractor Software Uses Social Media to Track People’s Movements

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A leaked video from Raytheon, one of the world’s largest defense contractors, demonstrates the capabilities of its Rapid Information Overlay Technology (RIOT) software. The tool applies advanced analytics to data gleaned from social media in order to predict the movements of nearly anyone—a prospect many people find frightening.

The Guardian’s Ryan Gallagher broke the story, reporting, “A multinational security firm has secretly developed software capable of tracking people’s movements and predicting future behavior by mining data from social networking websites. A video obtained by the Guardian reveals how an ‘extreme-scale analytics’ system created by Raytheon, the world’s fifth largest defense contractor, can gather vast amounts of information about people from websites including Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare. Raytheon says it has not sold the software – named Riot, or Rapid Information Overlay Technology – to any clients.”

CNET’s Eric Mack observed, “As Raytheon’s Brian Urch explains in the video, the system takes in data about an individual from social networks including Facebook, FourSquare and GoWalla (remember, it’s late 2010 in the video), maps it using Google Earth and analyzes the location information to figure out where a person has been and what that person’s routines are, and even to predict where someone might be at a certain time. The super-creepy part of the demo comes with this line from Urch at the end: ‘So if you ever did want to try to get hold of Nick, or maybe get hold of his laptop, you might want to visit the gym at 6am on a Monday.'”

The Register’s Simon Sharwood cautioned, “All of which sounds just terrifying, except for the fact similar software can be had from other sources that are far less scary than a ‘defense contractor.’ IBM, for example, happily sells ‘social media analytics’ software that can ‘Capture consumer data from social media to understand attitudes, opinions, trends and manage online reputation’ and even ‘Predict customer behavior.’ And yes, that’s the same IBM that can whip up a supercomputer or sell you a scale-out NAS capable of storing multiple petabytes of data. Throw in the social stuff and Big Blue, too, could help someone nasty to obtain, retain and analyze petabytes of data about us all.”

Similarly, Michael Peck with Forbes commented, “Yet what’s interesting is that while the software seems broad in its reach across popular social networks, it doesn’t seem all that sophisticated. Intrusive, perhaps, but really just a big butterfly net to catch large quantities of social network data that may or may not be valuable.”

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