Raytheon's RIOT Software: When The Internet, Social Media and Big Data Meet, It Gets Scary

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So, this tweet from @nellleo caught my eye last week:
Yikes! So of course, I had to click. And Nelly was right, it is scary.

Here's the thing: We're constantly sharing online. We knowingly share information about our whereabouts when we post on social networks. And we also leave tracks behind us with all of our other online interactions whether we use the web, our cel phones or other connected devices. We send out our IP addresses into the ether when we visit websites, which are recorded by tools like web analytics software and stored on servers owned by private companies. We serve up our locations throughout the day using tools like location check-in apps, photo software and the GPS on our cel phones. We leave behind a virtual trail, like the Internet equivalent of Billy from Family Circus (children of the 80s will get this one ;)

Billy`s path through the neighbourhood, traceable like our online behaviour
(Credit: Keith Roysdon)
When you consider all of those paths and all of that resulting data, you realize that the sheer volume of information about any one person is pretty impressive. When you combine that with the approximately 2.4 Billion Internet users around the world, that's a gargantuan amount of data. And that, my friends, is what is known as BIG data. Big data refers to data sets that are so huge, they are difficult to process using traditional methods or technologies. (Source: Wikipedia)

And nothing can possibly process all that data, right?

Ahem.

Back to Nelly's link: along comes RIOT (Rapid Information Overlay Technology), a tool that can not only track our interactions, but also mine all of that data and in turn predict our behaviour. The Sydney Morning Herald article Nelly tweeted refers to "extreme-scale analytics" — that means the ability to process those gargantuan amounts of data and make sense of them.

So here is where you, dear reader, have one of two thoughts:
  • Holy cr@p, can you imagine what would happen if this fell into the wrong hands?
  • Holy cr@p, are the authorities using this? *while naively deleting your browser history*
[Ok, maybe it's the same thought ;]

Raytheon, the makers of RIOT, were quick to follow up revelations about their software with claims that they never intended to release information about it (gee, that makes me feel better) and that they haven't sold it to anyone (yet).

But it's out there. (shivers)
And it's just a matter of time. (Don't fool yourself, it's already here.)

So the next question is: if you feverishly defend your right to privacy online, now that you know that anything you do can be traced back to you and cross-referenced with other information to create an incredibly detailed profile about you, even predict what you are going to do tomorrow, next week or next month, will it actually change your online behaviour? Or are you just going to click away from this article and pretend you never read it?

Still not sure? The Guardian got their hands on this demo of RIOT. Take a look and see what you think.



(Source: @nellleo who earns herself 100 XP points for all her great recent comments)