One of America’s biggest defense contractors is developing software that can track and analyze people’s activities on social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, and Flickr. Who’s behind this new program? It’s Raytheon, a company that is better known for building things like missiles and missile defense systems, high-tech flight simulators, and air traffic control systems.
And why does Raytheon want to build this Big Brother software? In 2013, status updates, photo uploads, and check-ins can reveal a lot more than just what you were up to over the weekend. By sifting through tasty tidbits like embedded GPS data in your holiday snapshots and the timestamps on your check-ins, Raytheon’s software (called RIOT) can build a profile that helps those at the controls figure out what you’re going to be doing… as well as where and when you’re likely to do it.
In its demonstration video, a Raytheon engineer shows the time and day he’s most likely to find one of his co-workers at the gym. That’s a pretty harmless example, but it still offers a glimpse into what the software is capable of doing.
If you thought the idea of Facebook and Gmail putting your online activities under the microscope to make it easier for advertisers to target you with their pitches, Raytheon’s taking things to a whole new level of creepiness.
The thing is, this isn’t even groundbreaking software. Anyone with the right mix of programming skill, motivation, and time could build something similar. And some already have.
Years back, I tested out a piece of software called Creepy. Creepy looks at the photos a user has uploaded to Twitter and Flickr, filters out the embedded GPS coordinates and timestamps, and then plots the locations on a Google Map.
The resulting output is every bit as off-putting as the Raytheon demo. If the user you’ve selected doesn’t strip photos of geolocation data before uploading, it’s easy to see their favourite haunts — and figure out what time they’re typically active in those spots. In the image above, you can see that Canadian rocker Matthew Good seems to have an affinity for hanging out on Vancouver’s Columbia Street.
You can use Creepy to do the same thing with just about anyone’s Twitter or Flickr account, and if you’ve got a little bit of skill with Excel you can quickly compile a timeline that gives you even more insight into what’s plotted on the map.
Ultimately, it’s not worth getting nervous over the software that Raytheon is developing. If anything you should be nervous about what the other people out there whose motivations may not be as apparent could be doing with all this information. You’re putting it out there, but are you giving enough thought to who might be looking at it — and why?
Fortunately, there’s an easy way to increase your privacy: Just decrease the amount of data that you share online.