While previously, the thought of the government using the Internet as some kind of magical tool to keep tabs on the whereabouts of its citizens was the stuff of fiction potboilers, a recently spotted development from Raytheon may turn the stuff of fiction into a grim new reality. The item in question, according to an online tracking tool known as Rapid Information Overlay Technology, or RIOT, has some downright disturbing potential associated with it.
The Guardian recently managed to land a copy of a 2010 video demonstration in which Raytheon showed off its online tracking tool's capabilities. The demonstration showed RIOT gathering information from Facebook, GoWalla and FourSquare – though this would almost certainly be updated to meet current social media favorites – then taking said publicly posted information to Google Earth and analyzing the location information provided to show where the person had been.
That by itself is eye-catching, but the RIOT system then went on to extrapolate future trends based on current patterns.
This in turn led to perhaps the most frightening part of the demonstration, when Raytheon's Brian Urch spelled out the impact by saying: "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 6am on a Monday."
As disturbing as this may be, it perhaps gets worse when it's considered that RIOT wasn't exactly a state secret beforehand; a press release even came out from Raytheon about RIOT in June 2010, a few months ahead of the release date.
Raytheon hasn't sold the software anywhere yet, but is at last reportedly working to refine the system with help from "...industry, national labs and commercial partners..." to help get RIOT into fighting trim, helping to "...turn massive amounts of data into useable information to help meet our nation's rapidly changing security needs."
Naturally, this is a development that has left some deeply unnerved, but it would seem in this case that the answer to the concern is to simply dial down the use of social media. Certainly, some would say, there's no real point in announcing every time a user might have lunch or go to the gym or the like. Yet others would interject here that that shouldn't be a concern in the first place; if someone feels like announcing every time they go to the gym, then surely they should be able to do so without the thought of it becoming part of the nation's security apparatus.
Both sides have valid concerns, of course, and indeed a more judicious use of social networking may be called for in general. But regarding the idea of RIOT or the like, falling into the wrong hands could be a devastating development indeed, and that makes the need for vigilance on every front all the more vital.
Edited by Allison Boccamazzo