Defence firm creates RIOT to track people on social networks

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US defence firm Raytheon has developed software that can track people via their updates to social networks and can even predict their future movements.

Dubbed RIOT or Rapid Information Overlay Technology, the software is capable of analysing "trillions of entities" mined from social networks and other parts of the internet.

RIOT came to light via investigations carried out by the Guardian newspaper. It unearthed a video from the firm detailing how the software trawls through vast quantities of data collected from Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare to build up a profileof a user.

The software can also pull metadata from pictures taken to pinpoint a user's location when the picture was taken. From this and other location data taken from applications such as Foursquare and Gowalla, the software can predict future movements of users.

Raytheon has not yet sold RIOT to any clients but has been shared with the US government as part of a joint research project to develop a Big Data system capable of surveilling large parts of the population.

Even when you've set all your settings to "Friends" only, it turns out you can still appear in strangers' search results

According to the Guardian report, Raytheon did not want the video to be revealed as the product was a "proof of concept" that had not been sold to clients. A spokesman for Raytheon told the Guardian that its Big Data analytics system would turn "turn massive amounts of data into useable information to help meet our nation's rapidly changing security needs."

The system has also been featured in a recently published patent filed by the firm designed to gather information on people from a variety of sources, including social networks, blogs and other applications.

Privacy organisations have warned that users will have to re-evaluate privacy settings on social networks to avoid themselves from being targetted in online searches by others.

"By locking down your privacy settings, you can help prevent your information from appearing in searches run by strangers and protect your friends from showing up in results," said Adi Kamdar of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

"But even when you've set all your settings to "Friends" only, it turns out you can still appear in strangers' search results," he said.

Kamdar added that users should be allowed to opt out of being found in searches.

IT Pro contacted Raytheon for further comment on RIOT but the firm has not responded to our request for comment at the time of publication.

Rene Millman

Rene Millman is a freelance writer and broadcaster who covers cybersecurity, AI, IoT, and the cloud. He also works as a contributing analyst at GigaOm and has previously worked as an analyst for Gartner covering the infrastructure market. He has made numerous television appearances to give his views and expertise on technology trends and companies that affect and shape our lives. You can follow Rene Millman on Twitter.