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article imageOp-Ed: New Raytheon Big Data surveillance can track ‘trillions’ online

By Paul Wallis     Feb 10, 2013 in Technology
Sydney - …And yet more surveillance software. This time it’s Raytheon’s Riot software, a Big Data behavioural analytics program. Given the fury about other types of electronic surveillance, RIOT may be a very apt name for this software.
The Guardian has a video online at the moment, but even Google News can’t find the original.
Sydney Morning Herald quotes the Guardian article:
A video obtained by the Guardian reveals how an "extreme-scale analytics" system created by Raytheon, the world's fifth largest defence 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.
This software is being described as “social media surveillance”, and it’s not exactly hard to see the ramifications. The main source of information at the moment is The Guardian video, but other snippets are showing up online.
The UK Telegraph is calling it “stalking software”, with some reason. This software can also provide latitude and longitude of subjects, probably using mobile technologies. The name RIOT means Rapid Information Overlay Technology, and that’s what RIOT does. It assembles a page with accumulated information, depending on what’s available, from the look of the video.
Grim possibilities
The possibilities for RIOT are hideous at consumer level. This really is the stalker’s dream technology. There’s also behavioural analysis to predict movements in the software. That’s what Big Data can do, and if it’s not foolproof, there are plenty of fools around the world to try it out on.
US employers, who have been creating virtual Gulags of surveillance for employees with much less effective technology, will love this. “We know what you do” has always been a working option for coercion. The fantastic levels of paranoia involved in the previous generations of surveillance technology will be truly gratified by RIOT.
Civil liberties and privacy advocates will be less than crazy about RIOT. Prior experience indicates that this class of software can be way ahead of laws, and that’s not doing the courts or the public any favours. RIOT could be a classic class action factory, if misused or breaching existing laws.
Weaknesses, and a lot of them
Less obvious to the enthusiasts will be the ease with which a big system like this could get hacked and distorted. You could put a hell of a lot of false information into RIOT before anyone noticed. Intelligence could be severely compromised by a “denial of facts” campaign by hacktivists, for example.
Plausible but false information is much harder to detect than most analysts seem to realize. Much as I hate to disillusion the geriatric lunatics who’ll see RIOT as the answer to all their non-existent/self-inflicted problems with living on the same planet as other people, it could be a massive own goal.
RIOT as a useful tool- To a degree
The basics of Big Data analytics are far more complex than the image Big Data and the Business Intelligence press releases indicate. Big Data includes a raft of materials, including an entire class of information known as “disparate data”. This data isn’t obliged to play by the rules and usually doesn’t. Significant information isn’t necessarily behavioural in origin. It may be related to a range of things like reactive media, etc. It may relate to market demographics, which are moving targets by definition.
The positives of RIOT, such as they are, include useful marketing information, but only as marketing information. That information is lower-level, consumer-discretionary, “Hey, someone bought a book!” standard stuff. OK, it’s no secret that someone bought a book, now. This isn’t strictly speaking Business Intelligence, unless you’re really hard up for conversation.
National security? Not necessarily
RIOT, in effect, has a role as a Big Picture Data model in marketing. It won’t be infallible, but it can handle data on a scale which can produce some HD marketing information. Raytheon claims RIOT has applications for national security, but if targets are aware of surveillance and how that surveillance works, you can bet anything you like that they’ll take steps to avoid it, and become even harder to find.
Let’s face it- If you’re a real terrorist, you’re not going to be advertising your intentions or doing anything likely to attract attention to yourself. You could, however, use something like RIOT to feed in as much useless information about yourself and your organization as possible, and it’d look believable. As the intelligence community knows only too well, rhetoric and related “chatter”, particularly in big spikes, aren’t hard information and don’t necessarily lead anywhere.
A large canvas can contain a lot of misleading or easily misinterpreted data. Without hard intelligence, RIOT could be a big white elephant. In marketing, maybe very useful, but let’s be careful what you wish for in terms of security. This thing has the capacity to eat intelligence resources like cornflakes and agencies should be aware of the downside before jumping on board.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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