Photo: Jonathon Narvey via flickr
American intelligence communities are interested in your YouTube video, flickr uploads, tweets — even your online book purchases — and for over a year they’ve been laying down some serious cash to get a better look at all of them.According to Wired, the tech-focused investment firm In-Q-Tel, that works with the CIA, is investing in Visible Technologies who perform social media monitoring and analytics.
This is the first major shift in the spy community’s commitment to monitoring public conversations that fill the Internet in blog posts, web uploads, purchases, TV shows, podcasts, YouTube videos, and articles every day.
Visible pulls from over 500,000 every 24 hours, grabbing more than one million posts, conversations, images, videos, and Amazon purchases. Clients get tailored real-time results of what’s happening based upon desired keywords.
Once Visible has a handle on what’s being said it “scores” each post and labels it negative or positive, mixed or benign. It also factors the influence of the author, or conversation, weighing each comment separately. The end-user interface then allows clients to tag user comments, and dialogue on them with colleagues.
While the program could benefit global security, the possibility for abuse is epic.
“Anything that is out in the open is fair game for collection,” says Steven Aftergood, who tracks intelligence issues at the Federation of American Scientists. But “even if information is openly gathered by intelligence agencies it would still be problematic if it were used for unauthorised domestic investigations or operations.
Intelligence agencies or employees might be tempted to use the tools at their disposal to compile information on political figures, critics, journalists or others, and to exploit such information for political advantage. That is not permissible even if all of the information in question is technically ‘open source.'”
When the CIA became an end user like Dell, AT&T and Microsoft who all use it to track customers — what they do with the data they’ve purchased is entirely up to them.
The size of the CIA’s investment in Visible is unknown, but the infusion of cash is supposed to be sufficient to enhance the company’s foreign language capabilities.
This is the first in a two part series tht examines the CIA’s investment in online trending.
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