Social Media Is a Tool of the CIA. Seriously

Last Updated Jul 11, 2011 8:12 AM EDT

You don't need to wear a tinfoil hat to believe that the CIA is using Facebook, Twitter, Google (GOOG) and other social media to spy on people. That's because the CIA publishes a helpful list of press releases on all the social media ventures it sponsors, via its technology investment arm In-Q-Tel.

The companies that take In-Q-Tel's money aren't shy about publicizing what they're up to, either. Most recently, GeoSemble announced an update to its GeoXray product, which monitors social media chatter based on location:
This capability benefits business users who may be monitoring competition, supply chain activity or business opportunities in a county, neighborhood or border region.
For governments at the city, local and Federal levels it brings the ability to visualize activity in a given area filtered by topic, time and location.
... we can deliver whatever information is available about that place from websites, blogs, tweets and other social media automatically and accurately ...
The world's largest database on individuals
One of the main threats to privacy comes from advertisers, who want to track everything consumers do on the web and scrape their online accounts for personal information. It shouldn't be surprising, therefore, to learn that the CIA and the worlds largest ad agency network, WPP (WPPGY), have been in bed together on a social media data-mining venture since at least January 2009. WPP currently claims to own the world's largest database of unique individual profiles -- including demographic, financial, purchase and geographic histories. WPP's Visible Technologies unit took an investment from In-Q-Tel in fall of 2009. Visible Technologies develops tools that can scan social media networks such as Twitter and Facebook.

WPP also funded Omniture, a marketing ROI agency, with $25 million in January 2009. Omniture's Visual Sciences unit has also taken In-Q-Tel money. The CIA re-upped with Visible Technologies as part of another $6 million funding round in March 2011.

Other companies that mine web data and have taken In-Q-Tel investments include:
  • Fetch Technologues: "Fetch's customized software agents navigate websites to instantly deliver meaningful, useful and reliable data, and easily integrate with a company's existing data management system for immediate analysis."
  • Cleversafe: A cloud-based storage company that, as Wired notes, is "'ideal for storing mission critical data by addressing the core principles of data confidentiality, integrity and availability.' (Incidentally, those principles also spell out CIA)."
  • Cloudera: provides data storage software that makes it easy for governments to process and analyze vast amounts of information.

Google and CIA: old friends
Are you seeing a trend yet? Google (GOOG) has been a partner with the CIA since 2004 when the company bought Keyhole, a mapping technology business that eventually became Google Earth. In 2010, Google and In-Q-Tel made a joint investment on a company called Recorded Future, which has the Minority Report-style goal of creating a "temporal analytics engine" that scours the web and creates curves that predict where events may head.

Google is already helping the government write, and rewrite, history. Here, from its transparency report, are some stats on the amount of information it has either given to the government or wiped from the web based on requests by U.S. agencies:
  • 4,601 requests from U.S. government agencies for "user data"
  • Google complied with government requests for user data 94% of the time.
  • 1,421 requests for "content removal"
  • Google complied with content removal requests 87% of the time.
  • 15 requests were from "executive, police etc."
  • 1 was a national security request.
Be seeing you!

Related: Image by Flickr user kirsty hall, CC.

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