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CIA Invests In Firm That Datamines Social Networks 190

Posted by timothy
from the problem-with-limited-privatization dept.
An anonymous reader writes with this excerpt from Wired: "In-Q-Tel, the investment arm of the CIA and the wider intelligence community, is putting cash into Visible Technologies, a software firm that specializes in monitoring social media. It's part of a larger movement within the spy services to get better at using 'open source intelligence' — information that's publicly available... Visible Technologies crawls over half a million web 2.0 sites a day, scraping more than a million posts and conversations taking place on blogs, online forums, Flickr, YouTube, Twitter and Amazon. (It doesn't touch closed social networks, like Facebook, at the moment.) Customers get customized, real-time feeds of what's being said on these sites, based on a series of keywords. 'That's kind of the basic step — get in and monitor,' says company senior vice president Blake Cahill. Then Visible 'scores' each post, labeling it as positive or negative, mixed or neutral. It examines how influential a conversation or an author is. ('Trying to determine who really matters,' as Cahill puts it.) Finally, Visible gives users a chance to tag posts, forward them to colleagues and allow them to response through a web interface."Apropos: Another anonymous reader points out an article making the point that users don't even realize how much private information they're sharing over these services.
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CIA Invests In Firm That Datamines Social Networks

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  • by mrdoogee (1179081) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @10:54AM (#29808165)
    Why a US government agency needs an "investment arm?"
    • by AliasMarlowe (1042386) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @10:58AM (#29808215) Journal

      Why a US government agency needs an "investment arm?"

      Just copying the Brits. They've been referring to many kinds of government spending as "investment" for years now - even chunks of the welfare system. The debasement of the English language proceeds apace, on both sides of the Atlantic...

      • by sopssa (1498795) *

        Visible Technologies crawls over half a million web 2.0 sites a day, scraping more than a million posts and conversations taking place on blogs, online forums, Flickr, YouTube, Twitter and Amazon.

        Well, hello there!

        (their "Visible Technologies" highlights must be flashing with this slashdot story)

        • by Interoperable (1651953) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @11:20AM (#29808581)
          Just in case Visible Technologies crawls /. looking for it's own name: Fuck Off
          • by Thanshin (1188877) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @11:34AM (#29808881)

            Just in case Visible Technologies crawls /. looking for it's own name: Fuck Off

            Salutations from a common SLASHDOT.ORG entity,

            Do you mind if I ask you a question?

            How influential are you among the other entities of SLASHDOT.ORG.

            Thank you.

            • by mollog (841386) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @11:41AM (#29809013)
              What troubles me about this is not the security applications, although there is risk there, too, but the political, persuasive abuse. Innocent sites like Slashdot will be 'turfed' to move public opinion and public perception.

              I'll guess that this is already going on.
              • This has been going on for a while; social networking websites, news websites (with comments), aggregators like /., and blogs are routinely astroturfed.
              • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

                by TarPitt (217247)

                This is already going on.

                Some companies make big money via Astroturfing:

                Has Netvocates visited your blog recently [utahadventurevideos.com]

                Many bloggers are starting to notice some new referrals from a company called “NetVocates” (mine showed up as coming from arrca.netvocates.com to be specific).

                I recently invited a guest blogger (who writes under the pseudonym D. Sirmize) to share his political opinions on my blog. I began to get hits (55 to date) from NetVocates a couple days after his first political post. It woul

                • Obviously (Score:3, Interesting)

                  by mollog (841386)
                  Yes, I know that organizations are 'astroturfing'. That is why I used the term 'turf'. That's been going on for quite some time.

                  What's new and different is governmental use of automated tools. Would it not be fair to assume that secret government agencies, already enjoying unconstitutional immunity, would use these tools to effectively destroy groups who, for example, seek to put limits on the powers of secret government agencies?

                  And would it not be smart to assume that these tools will be used by pol
              • by numbski (515011)

                No it won't! The CIA is here to serve the American people. We^H^HThey would never do something so devious as to astroturf sites like Slashdot!

            • by sopssa (1498795) * <sopssa@email.com> on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @12:10PM (#29809589) Journal

              Psst.. Visible Technologies, please do something about the Anonymous Coward bastard.. he's such a troll in every freaking thread.

            • by mcgrew (92797) *

              How influential are you among the other entities of SLASHDOT.ORG.

              What difference does it make? His response was his, and is just as valid if nobody else agrees as it is if everybody else agrees. And I'd like to add my "fuck off" to these evil dickweeds as well.

          • Bomb. Obama. Whitehouse. CIA. FBI. Conspiracy. Ruby ridge. Muslim. Jihad. Osama. Israel. Arlington Road. Homeland Security. 747. 777. Pilot lessons. Explode. 9/11. Pentagon.

            Think of it like Carlin's "7 words you can't say on TV".

            • Your post lacked several words such as: suitcase nuke uranium plutonium dirty bomb assassinate Flight Airplane Airport Tickets passports improvised diesel fuel oil fertilizer nitrogen detonators cipher decode infiltrate
            • by dave562 (969951)

              No no no, you messed it all up. THESE are the keywords you're looking for.

              SPP, NAU, North American Union, amero, dollar, fraud, SEC, insurrection, revolt, revolution, bloomberg, goldman sachs, G20

            • by MRe_nl (306212)

              "The PRESIDENT has the RED NUCLEAR MAILBOMB and an RPG, so he's going to meet with the SMALL POX CRYPTO INFILTRATION team and the SUBVERSIVES from WHITE YANKEE, then ASSASINATE the SECRET SERVICE CLAYMORE MUNITIONS after lunch."

              http://echelonspoofer.com/ [echelonspoofer.com]

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Tubal-Cain (1289912)
      If you've got your own little money tree you aren't as tied to budgets set by someone else.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by mayko (1630637)
      What they really need is an "investment brain."
    • Here's why (Score:5, Interesting)

      by NoYob (1630681) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @11:30AM (#29808787)
      1. To promote technologies that will add to the CIA's arsenal.
      2. To buy into companies that allow them to circumnavigate Constitutional provisions against spying on American citizens.

      For example, the second one, the CIA loves companies like this one [choicepoint.com] and the credit bureaus because they can legally collect information on private citizens. Then the CIA "buys" the information from them and they can go to Congress and say, "Nope! We are NOT spying on Americans." - at least that's the answer to the Congressmen that aren't afraid to appear to be "weak on terrorism" or afraid to be lambasted by ignorant talk show hosts.

      • Re:Here's why (Score:4, Interesting)

        by DutchUncle (826473) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @12:26PM (#29809847)
        So my follow-on question is, Why does everyone think it's OK for private companies answerable to no one (or the highest bidder) to be collecting this information in the first place? Well, yes, I suppose most people in this thread don't think so, but all of the normal people out there seem to be perfectly happy with the idea.
        • Re:Here's why (Score:4, Insightful)

          by causality (777677) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @01:08PM (#29810631)

          So my follow-on question is, Why does everyone think it's OK for private companies answerable to no one (or the highest bidder) to be collecting this information in the first place? Well, yes, I suppose most people in this thread don't think so, but all of the normal people out there seem to be perfectly happy with the idea.

          Because they don't view the Bill of Rights as sound and enlightened principles to be honored wherever possible that happened to be enshrined in the Constitution. They view them as rules like any other. Then they note that either the rules don't apply to those private companies or they would be difficult to enforce, and for them, that's that. It's a mentality that is all about what is allowed or what can be gotten away with, rather than what is right or wrong.

          I do have a more immediate question. If an average citizen hires a person to do something illegal, both the person and the one he hired can be charged with a crime. If it's illegal for the CIA to gather data on American citizens, why is it suddenly legal when they do the same thing by proxy? Why wouldn't both they and the company they hired be prosecuted for this?

        • by dave562 (969951)

          People go along with the program because they enjoy the "benefits" provided by the program. In the case of organizations like ChoicePoint and the credit bureaus, people like having access to credit. People like being able to spend money that they don't have. Just look at Congress and the rest of America. I read something the other day that said the debt load of America is over 100% (it was around 120%, down from 130%+ a few years ago).

          People are willing to give up their rights so that they can have acce

    • by TheCarp (96830) * <sjc@noSPAM.carpanet.net> on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @11:34AM (#29808883) Homepage

      You may also wonder why they needed to illegally . Or perhaps you might wonder why they would [wikipedia.org]dose "their own" citizens with LSD [wikipedia.org]

      I think Zack De La Rocha, The Last Emperor & KRS-ONE said it best in their track "CIA"
      "Need I say the C.I.A. be criminals in action"

      But given that the same song said that "President Clinton should delete them", I guess it wasn't as popular as it could have been :) and sadly, since 9/11 they are actually percieved to have a job again. A front job is always a very good thing for a criminal. Nothing like an air of legitimacy to hide criminal minds.

      -Steve

      • by jamstar7 (694492)

        But given that the same song said that "President Clinton should delete them", I guess it wasn't as popular as it could have been :) and sadly, since 9/11 they are actually percieved to have a job again.

        Strange. Kennedy fired Dulles & his Number Two, then wrote a couple executive orders breaking the CIA into a thousand pieces to be swallowed up by the various military intelligence services. His body was still cooling off when LBJ rescinded those orders and ended up starting the Vietnam War.

        The Russi

        • by causality (777677)

          The Russian Federation's experiences with ex-spooks (former KGB officers) tells us that if you fire them, they'll just go underground as criminals. Russian Mafia, anybody?

          So we should learn something from the ronin, perhaps. Nothing like history repeating itself...

    • by megamerican (1073936) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @11:45AM (#29809071)

      What you don't understand is that part of the CIA has ALWAYS had an investment arm, even before the CIA and OSS existed. The CIA was born out of the private intelligence networks already well established by Wall Street, hence why so many of the early CIA was filled and run by Ivy League schools and Yale's Skull and Bones crowd.

      The funny thing is Facebook has long since been implicated as being funded indirectly by In-Q-Tel. [nzherald.co.nz]

      The second round of funding into Facebook ($US12.7 million) came from venture capital firm Accel Partners. Its manager James Breyer was formerly chairman of the National Venture Capital Association, and served on the board with Gilman Louie, CEO of In-Q-Tel, a venture capital firm established by the Central Intelligence Agency in 1999. One of the company's key areas of expertise are in "data mining technologies".

      Since 1947 the CIA and other intelligence activities have been more and more privatized. They have always used front companies. Search for the Northwoods Documents, which were authored in the late 1950's.

      Many have argued that E.O 12333 privatized a lot of intelligence work. Read Confessions of an Economic Hitman if you want to know one reason why they do this.

      This is really only news to people who don't pay attention.

    • by jamstar7 (694492)

      Why a US government agency needs an "investment arm?"

      To help fund off the books black ops projects, of course. Can't exactly go before the House Budget Committee and request multiple millions for bribe money to be used on foreign dictators, now, can you? And to provide plausible deniability, like 'Air America' back during the Vietnam days.

    • Why a US government agency needs an "investment arm?"

      Investment vehicles like In-Q-Tel are not redundant with conventional venture capital and were created to fill some clear funding gaps in the existing technology venture markets.

      First and foremost, they tend to invest in ventures with technologies that are sufficiently advanced or unusual that normal VCs will promptly ignore the venture. This came out of a realization that really advanced computer science and hardware technologies that the agencies needed

    • by Vahokif (1292866)
      We wouldn't be here talking about this if it wasn't for DARPA.
    • Why a US government agency needs an "investment arm?"

      Because US intelligence agencies are probably 10 to 15 years behind in terms of their data gathering and data mining abilities.

      Let me put it to you this way. Would a company like Google, with the amount of data it has and the way it uses it, have been allowed to exist during the cold war? Not a chance. At the very least, Google would have extremely close connections to the establishment and it would be far more likely that it would have found itself coral

    • by demachina (71715)

      Because in case your haven't noticed the U.S. government has turned in to a gigantic corporation, an extremely corrupt and incompetent corporation at that. There isn't anything resembling a government "of the people" in Washington any more and both parties are equally to blame. By any definition the U.S. has moved in to the realm of "state capitalism", and again both Democrats and Republicans are equally responsible, its been happening for a while but the last couple years it became a fait accompli as brea

  • !Anonymous. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tubal-Cain (1289912) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @10:56AM (#29808181) Journal

    An anonymous reader writes with this excerpt...

    Anonymous to us, maybe...

  • by Red Flayer (890720) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @11:05AM (#29808323) Journal

    Then Visible 'scores' each post, labeling it as positive or negative, mixed or neutral. It examines how influential a conversation or an author is. ('Trying to determine who really matters,' as Cahill puts it.)

    Seems like a redundant effort. Why not just check the author's karma on slashdot?

    Surely my high slashdot karma means I'm one of the most influential people on the internet... right? Right?

    • by AJWM (19027) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @11:30AM (#29808779) Homepage

      Surely my high slashdot karma means I'm one of the most influential people on the internet... right?

      Well, it would, but your user number has too many digits.

  • by Drummergeek0 (1513771) <tonyNO@SPAM3bdd.com> on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @11:20AM (#29808593)

    This is data that people freely post to be read by all anyway. All this seems to do is aggregate it. If you post it in a public forum, you shouldn't care who uses it or how. Unless the sites being scraped have policies against said scraping, who cares? I see it as a very valuable tool for sales departments.

    Besides, I am sure the signal to noise ratio for this system is incredibly low, so one has to wonder how much usable information is retrieved.

    The only problem I have with this is that my tax dollars are going to fund it.

    • by MBC1977 (978793)
      "This is data that people freely post to be read by all anyway. All this seems to do is aggregate it. If you post it in a public forum, you shouldn't care who uses it or how."

      Because individualized personality profiles can be built of off seemingly innocuous data.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by idontgno (624372)

      Reading publicly-posted comments is not a problem. At least, not to me. (I do know some thickies that are shocked, SHOCKED, that someone besides their BFFs can read their social networking crap.) Anyways, sure, public posting is public. Even lolcat knows that.

      But agencies of state power reading, aggregating, correlating, and scoring... drawing secret conclusions based on hidden agendas and closed criteria... that's disturbing. Shades of J. Edgar Hoover's secret file cabinet and COINTELPRO and the basement o

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by causality (777677)

      This is data that people freely post to be read by all anyway. All this seems to do is aggregate it. If you post it in a public forum, you shouldn't care who uses it or how. Unless the sites being scraped have policies against said scraping, who cares? I see it as a very valuable tool for sales departments.

      Besides, I am sure the signal to noise ratio for this system is incredibly low, so one has to wonder how much usable information is retrieved.

      The only problem I have with this is that my tax dollars are going to fund it.

      I'll explain that with a hypothetical analogy. There's nothing wrong with a person who can see your house from the public street. You knew it was a public road before you built a house near it, after all. However, you might find it a bit unsettling if the same van is always parked on that road and its occupant is always watching your house day and night. You might find it downright alarming if you noticed that he was videotaping your premises and taking notes about your daily activities. You might wond

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      Unless the sites being scraped have policies against said scraping

      Who cares what your policy is? You put your site on the public internet, I'll use it any damned way I see fit.

  • Information wants to be free...
    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      Information wants to be bought and paid for. See how dumb that cliche is?

      However, when information isn't free, neither are you.

  • by Interoperable (1651953) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @11:27AM (#29808721)
    The crawler is going to get seriously depressed if it crawls YouTube conversations.
    • I agree. If ever there was a computer likely to become sentient and decide that the human race should not continue, it's this one...
    • by jamstar7 (694492)

      The crawler is going to get seriously depressed if it crawls YouTube conversations.

      I'm just wondering what they'll do when it hits 4chan. Do they block that, or do they send all that to the FBI & let them wade thru the pedobear posts?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @11:30AM (#29808789)

    There are a TON of companies that are trying to datamine social media for a variety of reasons- I'm posting anonymously because I work for a company that makes one of these products.

    What is interesting is companies that make consumer products all want these tools to be able to track the companies interaction with the consumer- these companies are specifically replying back to specific posters in order to stop the spread of what they call "misinformation", but in actuality is just anything where the company is painted in a bad light. Let me be clear: Corporate America wants to control everything that is said online, and the tools to do it are starting to show up. Companies are starting to employ people whose soul job is to look at social media and respond to negative comments.

    I predict not far in the future there is going to be a push for owners of social media sites to have some control over who can index their content.

    • I like to use my blog to rant about unusable products and deceptive practices. Once I got a call from someone working for a large online retailer regarding a post where I labelled one of their practices as a "fraud". Technically it wasn't because the issue was not settled by a court (but another similar company was condemned for a very similar practice). He was very business-like but a bit pushy, so I googled his name. Turns out that he's basically in charge of responding to all the online criticism aimed a

    • by astar (203020)

      I have thought a bit about control of information, not just corporate control.

      Google is developing a firefox plug-in for adding additional information to established web sites by viewers. "Helpful comments". Well, that is google.

      I seem to recall this was done in a less restricted way perhaps five years ago by someone, it went through some courts and was considered legal, basically because it was a user choice to install the plug-in. Probably got the story from slashdot.

      Writing a fire-fox plug-in is not i

    • by garcia (6573)

      Let me be clear: Corporate America wants to control everything that is said online, and the tools to do it are starting to show up. Companies are starting to employ people whose soul job is to look at social media and respond to negative comments.

      You're right, they are responding to negative comments. In fact, I'm impressed with the responses I have received from my ISP (Charter) and SAS. I posted some pretty pissed off comments about Charter last week when my connection dropped (I have business class and I

      • You're right that most companies are using it to monitor customer satisfaction and do market research, not in any negative sense but to see how people honestly feel. However, the issue is one of bad apples - in the classical, correct sense of one bad apple spoiling the barrel, I should specify, not the dismissive "just a few bad apples."

        Every time a company gets spotted promulgating fake reviews or comments, they're essentially poisoning the well. As clever as we are (or as clever as we think we are), there

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      these companies are specifically replying back to specific posters in order to stop the spread of what they call "misinformation"

      You see it at slashdot all the time. It's called "shilling". And they do worse here -- they downmod anyone who badmouths their company.

  • Damn, I feel sorry for whoever gets stuck analyzing the YouTube data. One massive 40-hour-a-week rickroll.

  • by PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @11:56AM (#29809311)

    (It doesn't touch closed social networks, like Facebook, at the moment.)

    More like, they're not admitting touching them . . . at the moment.

  • is just that, public. This means even the CIA can use it.

New crypt. See /usr/news/crypt.

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