Don’t know what you’ll be doing in 48 hours? Don’t worry, I do.

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It seems every time I log into Facebook, someone’s ‘check-in’ will be displayed on my newsfeed. This new craze amongst Facebook users appears to be growing rapidly, and I keep asking myself: why? Personally, I’m not a massive fan of displaying that type of information (except for, admittedly, one time: when I attempted to be sardonic and ‘checked in’ to a ‘sofa’ on a Friday night when everybody else seemed to be partying) – and I hope, in this week’s blog, you will see why.

In February, a new software, RIOT, emerged. But not just any old standard software; it is, to put it quite simply, a stalking system, capable of tracking people’s movements and predicting future behaviour by mining data from the websites we use today. Earlier this year the Guardian obtained a video created by Raytheon, the creators of this “extreme-scale analytics” software (and notably the world’s 5th giant defence contractor). And in it, they state:

“RIOT 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.”

At first, it sounds pretty good. ‘To help meet our nation’s rapidly changing security needs?’ Well, on the surface at least. But here is a short clip of what RIOT would actually do, with the co-founder Brian showing the steps in order to predict one’s actions:

This software, R.I.O.T (Rapid Information Overlay Technology) relies on social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, two other examples. The system has been created in order to allow government agents to access (note: within just a click) your personal activity log, and more alarmingly calculate your future actions based on the said history of your account.

Not to say I do not care, but I don’t find this particularly shocking. Nevertheless, why does no one seem to be concerned? RIOT has not been officially sold to any clients yet, but this is not to say it won’t be sold soon. Once one company purchases it, there will, as always, be a domino effect, and before we know it, each one of our ‘actions’ on a site will be recorded and analysed.

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I don’t know about you, but within seconds of that video, I wasn’t feeling particularly enthused. Brian states ‘So: now we know who Nick is, what he looks like, where he’s going- and now, we may want to predict where he’ll go in the future.’ By the end of analysing the locations, which are summarised in simple pie chart form, we are able to predict that there is a 99.9% chance we will be sure to see him at his local gym, in ‘LOCATION’ at 6am on a Monday morning- and how? Simply through monitoring the different clicks Nick makes on his Smartphone. Facebook now accounts for one in every five minutes spent on smartphones, and one in eight on the web overall. We can’t seem to bring ourselves away from these social networking sites.

Are there any benefits?

Interestingly enough, Raytheon currently has a $100 million counter-terrorism contract with NSA (the US National Security Agency).  Called “Perfect Citizen”, the cyber-security system aims to detect future cyber attacks (and any other type of attack) on U.S. networks, and according to the documents obtained by EPIC, the program has said to be effective.

However, if you haven’t realised by now, RIOT would serve little use in preventing terrorism; I think it would be pretty unlikely for a terrorist to update their status or even ‘check-in’ during any of their activities, don’t you? And quite clearly Raytheon’s motivation here is to turn interest into a steady flow of money.

Can we stop this?

Technology often performs in the way originally intended, but nevertheless, it can lead to unpredictable social consequences. So how can we avoid technologies that we’re not in favour of? Collingridge, author of ‘The Social Control of Technology’ refers to the ‘power problem’, and states once we become entrenched in a technology, we have no control and subsequently resist any form of change. Instead, we search for ‘fixes’ to avoid the end of the technology we have found ourselves obsessed with- and personally, I can completely admit to doing this. And unsurprisingly, attempting to predict the social consequences of a technological innovation before it has even been implanted is not exactly straightforward.

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So after reading this, I hope you think twice before posting such personal information on the internet? As I mentioned earlier, Raytheon hasn’t sold the software to any clients yet, but I think this should just be a reminder to you all that your friends and family may not be the only individuals interested in your latest statuses, tweets and check-ins.

Facebook and Twitter are not going anywhere imminently- only we have the power to control the situation before it controls us.

Thank you for joining me again!

– Shivani

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