A multinational security firm has secretly developed software capable of tracking people’s movements and predicting future behaviour by mining data from social networking websites.
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. But the Massachusetts-based company has acknowledged the technology was shared with US government and industry as part of a joint research and development effort, in 2010, to help build a national security system capable of analysing “trillions of entities” from cyberspace.
The power of Riot to harness websites for surveillance offers a rare insight into techniques that have attracted interest from intelligence and national security agencies, at the same time prompting civil liberties and online privacy concerns.
Using Riot it is possible to gain a picture of a person’s life – their friends, the places they visit charted on a map – in little more than a few clicks of a button.
In the video obtained by the Guardian, Raytheon’s “principal investigator” Brian Urch explains that photographs which users post on social networks sometimes contain latitude and longitude details – automatically embedded by smartphones within so-called “exif header data”. Riot pulls out this information, showing the location at which the pictures were taken. Riot can display online associations and relationships using Twitter and Facebook and sift GPS location information from Foursquare, a mobile phone app used by more than 25 million people to alert friends of their whereabouts. The Foursquare data can be used to display, in graph form, the top 10 places visited and the times at which they visited them.