Another day, another surveillance tool that falls into our laps. Only this one seems to be getting a few more pairs of knickers in a twist than usual, because not only can it track a random individual’s movements, but it can even be used to predict where they’re likely to be on any given day in the future.
The software program in question is RIOT (Rapid Information Overlay Technology) from Raytheon, which applies what The Guardian terms “extreme scale analytics” to gather vast amounts of information from people via social media sites like Facebook, Foursquare and Twitter.
It’s a Big Data tool from hell. The UK’s Telegraph newspaper has labelled it social “stalking software”, and not without good reason, for not only does it spy on people to predict their movements, but it can even track the latitude and longitude of subjects via mobile devices to tell you where that person is located now, and where they are most likely to turn up at a given time on a certain day of the week.
A video obtained by The Guardian from Raytheon shows Raytheon developer Brian Urch giving an overview of how effective the software is at tracking individuals through cyberspace. Urch explains how images posted online contain data revealing the location where it was taken, and how RIOT can gather this location data to build up a detailed picture of a subject’s movements.
Using a Raytheon employee named “Nick” as his test subject, Urch’s demonstration reveals that not only can RIOT track social media users, but it can also scan the web and display all public photos posted online by an individual. Those images are then overlaid onto Google Maps, detailing the locations where they were snapped. Urch clicks on one to a reveal an image of “Nick” posing along with an unidentified blonde-haired woman.
“We know where Nick’s going, we know what Nick looks like,” explains Urch in the video. “Now, we want to try to predict where he might go in the future.”
Urch then asks RIOT to illustrate the one place where “Nick” shows up most frequently, and discovers that the employee regularly frequents a gym at 6PM, most often on a Monday.
“So if you ever did want to try to get hold of Nick, or maybe get hold of his laptop, you might want to visit the gym at 6 a.m. on a Monday,” adds Urch.
So far, no one except Raytheon has gotten their hands on the technology. The company says that it hasn’t yet found any customers for RIOT, which it claims is a “big data analytics system design we are working on with industry, national labs and commercial partners to help turn massive amounts of data into useable information to help meet our nation’s rapidly changing security needs.”
From that statement, we can presume that Raytheon only intends to sell the software to government’s, which is just as well considering its obvious potential for misuse, regardless of the ‘safety features’ apparently installed in it.
Should this software ever fall into the consumer domain the possibilities are really quite horrific. For the dedicated stalker, RIOT is like a dream come true. Given that the vast majority of teenagers and a huge number of adults use social media all the time, updating their location and posting photos online numerous times each day, accepting stranger’s friend requests willy-nilly, RIOT would be the perfect tool for any deranged ex-boyfriend/random pervert looking for the most opportunistic moment to get their ‘target’ when they’re alone.