Defense contractor Raytheon has developed software that tracks people online through social media sites like Twitter and Facebook.
The Rapid Information Overlay Technology (RIOT) software uses location data embedded in photographs and other Internet postings to track users' movements and personal activities, according to Brian Urch, Raytheon's principal investigator.
In a company video obtained and posted online by The London Guardian on Sunday, Mr. Urch shows how repeated "check-ins" or postings on social media sites leave a trail of location data that enables RIOT to build up a detailed daily itinerary for the people it is tracking.
He demonstrates by tracking a Raytheon employee called Nick. When he inputs Nick's email address, the program responds with a list of social media sites Nick uses. With a few clicks, Mr. Urch is able to compile location data from photographs and other postings Nick has shared on a social media, including FourSquare — a location-based service for FaceBook users that helps online friends know when they are near each other.
RIOT shows the frequency of check-ins and postings from particular locations organized as pie and bar charts.
Press representatives for the Raytheon intelligence and information systems division did not return telephone calls or emails requesting comment.
The company told The Guardian that RIOT is merely a "proof of concept" design that "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.
"Its innovative privacy features are the most robust that we're aware of, enabling the sharing and analysis of data without personally identifiable information [like social security numbers or bank account information] being disclosed."
The news will fuel fears that governments, including the U.S. government, are increasingly using technology to monitor the online activities of citizens.
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