‘Riot’ software developed to monitor people on social networks is as sinister as it sounds. We need legal safeguards, and fast
Separating paranoia from healthy caution in the 21st century is only getting harder, as it gets easier and easier for governments and corporations to track our online behaviour. The latest development, revealed by the Guardian, is that defence giant Raytheon has created software capable of tracking people based on information posted to social networks.
Its capabilities are impressively creepy: by extracting location information from Facebook, check-ins, and even latitude and longitude details from photographs in which targets are tagged (did you know cameras stored that?), it builds a picture of where someone’s been, who they’ve been there with, and where they might go next.
This software, named Riot, is the latest in a long line of products offered to track people online, whether through spyware on their machines or by generating fake online personas who befriend dissidents. In the past, tracking individuals was difficult and costly, and so kept well targeted. Today, it’s so easy that mass-surveillance is feasible – and so-called “big data” makes it seem tempting and innocuous.
Ball’s piece concludes, “[s]urveillance is getting cheaper and easier by the day, which in turn proves almost irresistible – for those with good and bad intentions – to make more use of it.”
That includes marketers, who see software like this not as a threat, but an opportunity.
Bottom line: Caveat browser.
Let the (Internet) browser beware.
John Carroll, who also writes at Campaign Outsider and It's Good to Live in a Two-Daily Town, is a media analyst and mass communication professor at Boston University.
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