[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]
[infowar.de] NSA will social networking websites "ernten"
Ich sag ja schon seit ner Weile, dass die Privacy-Implikationen von
Web2.0 noch viel zu wenig bedacht und diskutiert wurden.
Vielleicht wird es _so_ deutlicher?
Pentagon sets its sights on social networking websites
10 June 2006
NewScientist.com news service
"I AM continually shocked and appalled at the details people voluntarily
post online about themselves." So says Jon Callas, chief security officer
at PGP, a Silicon Valley-based maker of encryption software. He is far
from alone in noticing that fast-growing social networking websites such
as MySpace and Friendster are a snoop's dream.
New Scientist has discovered that Pentagon's National Security Agency,
which specialises in eavesdropping and code-breaking, is funding research
into the mass harvesting of the information that people post about
themselves on social networks. And it could harness advances in internet
technology - specifically the forthcoming "semantic web" championed by the
web standards organisation W3C - to combine data from social networking
websites with details such as banking, retail and property records,
allowing the NSA to build extensive, all-embracing personal profiles of
Americans are still reeling from last month's revelations that the NSA has
been logging phone calls since the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001.
The Congressional Research Service, which advises the US legislature, says
phone companies that surrendered call records may have acted illegally.
However, the White House insists that the terrorist threat makes existing
wire-tapping legislation out of date and is urging Congress not to
investigate the NSA's action.
Meanwhile, the NSA is pursuing its plans to tap the web, since phone logs
have limited scope. They can only be used to build a very basic picture of
someone's contact network, a process sometimes called "connecting the
dots". Clusters of people in highly connected groups become apparent, as
do people with few connections who appear to be the intermediaries between
such groups. The idea is to see by how many links or "degrees" separate
people from, say, a member of a blacklisted organisation.
By adding online social networking data to its phone analyses, the NSA
could connect people at deeper levels, through shared activities, such as
taking flying lessons. Typically, online social networking sites ask
members to enter details of their immediate and extended circles of
friends, whose blogs they might follow. People often list other facets of
their personality including political, sexual, entertainment, media and
sporting preferences too. Some go much further, and a few have lost their
jobs by publicly describing drinking and drug-taking exploits. Young
people have even been barred from the orthodox religious colleges that
they are enrolled in for revealing online that they are gay.
"You should always assume anything you write online is stapled to your
resumé. People don't realise you get Googled just to get a job interview
these days," says Callas.
Other data the NSA could combine with social networking details includes
information on purchases, where we go (available from cellphone records,
which cite the base station a call came from) and what major financial
transactions we make, such as buying a house.
“You should always assume anything you write online is stapled to your resumé”
Right now this is difficult to do because today's web is stuffed with data
in incompatible formats. Enter the semantic web, which aims to iron out
these incompatibilities over the next few years via a common data
structure called the Resource Description Framework (RDF). W3C hopes that
one day every website will use RDF to give each type of data a unique,
predefined, unambiguous tag.
"RDF turns the web into a kind of universal spreadsheet that is readable
by computers as well as people," says David de Roure at the University of
Southampton in the UK, who is an adviser to W3C. "It means that you will
be able to ask a website questions you couldn't ask before, or perform
calculations on the data it contains." In a health record, for instance, a
heart attack will have the same semantic tag as its more technical
description, a myocardial infarction. Previously, they would have looked
like separate medical conditions. Each piece of numerical data, such as
the rate of inflation or the number of people killed on the roads, will
also get a tag.
The advantages for scientists, for instance, could be huge: they will have
unprecedented access to each other's experimental datasets and will be
able to perform their own analyses on them. Searching for products such as
holidays will become easier as price and availability dates will have
smart tags, allowing powerful searches across hundreds of sites.
On the downside, this ease of use will also make prying into people's
lives a breeze. No plan to mine social networks via the semantic web has
been announced by the NSA, but its interest in the technology is evident
in a funding footnote to a research paper delivered at the W3C's WWW2006
conference in Edinburgh, UK, in late May.
That paper, entitled Semantic Analytics on Social Networks, by a research
team led by Amit Sheth of the University of Georgia in Athens and Anupam
Joshi of the University of Maryland in Baltimore reveals how data from
online social networks and other databases can be combined to uncover
facts about people. The footnote said the work was part-funded by an
organisation called ARDA.
What is ARDA? It stands for Advanced Research Development Activity.
According to a report entitled Data Mining and Homeland Security,
published by the Congressional Research Service in January, ARDA's role is
to spend NSA money on research that can "solve some of the most critical
problems facing the US intelligence community". Chief among ARDA's aims is
to make sense of the massive amounts of data the NSA collects - some of
its sources grow by around 4 million gigabytes a month.
The ever-growing online social networks are part of the flood of internet
information that could be mined: some of the top sites like MySpace now
have more than 80 million members (see Graph).
The research ARDA funded was designed to see if the semantic web could be
easily used to connect people. The research team chose to address a
subject close to their academic hearts: detecting conflicts of interest in
scientific peer review. Friends cannot peer review each other's research
papers, nor can people who have previously co-authored work together.
So the team developed software that combined data from the RDF tags of
online social network Friend of a Friend (www.foaf-project.org), where
people simply outline who is in their circle of friends, and a
semantically tagged commercial bibliographic database called DBLP, which
lists the authors of computer science papers.
Joshi says their system found conflicts between potential reviewers and
authors pitching papers for an internet conference. "It certainly made
relationship finding between people much easier," Joshi says. "It picked
up softer [non-obvious] conflicts we would not have seen before."
The technology will work in exactly the same way for intelligence and
national security agencies and for financial dealings, such as detecting
insider trading, the authors say. Linking "who knows who" with purchasing
or bank records could highlight groups of terrorists, money launderers or
blacklisted groups, says Sheth.
The NSA recently changed ARDA's name to the Disruptive Technology Office.
The DTO's interest in online social network analysis echoes the Pentagon's
controversial post 9/11 Total Information Awareness (TIA) initiative. That
programme, designed to collect, track and analyse online data trails, was
suspended after a public furore over privacy in 2002. But elements of the
TIA were incorporated into the Pentagon's classified programme in the
September 2003 Defense Appropriations Act.
Privacy groups worry that "automated intelligence profiling" could sully
people's reputations or even lead to miscarriages of justice - especially
since the data from social networking sites may often be inaccurate,
untrue or incomplete, De Roure warns.
But Tim Finin, a colleague of Joshi's, thinks the spread of such
technology is unstoppable. "Information is getting easier to merge, fuse
and draw inferences from. There is money to be made and control to be
gained in doing so. And I don't see much that will stop it," he says.
Callas thinks people have to wise up to how much information about
themselves they should divulge on public websites. It may sound obvious,
he says, but being discreet is a big part of maintaining privacy. Time,
perhaps, to hit the delete button.
From issue 2555 of New Scientist magazine, 10 June 2006, page 30
To unsubscribe, e-mail: infowar -
- infopeace -
For additional commands, e-mail: infowar -
- infopeace -