Controversial Software Uses Facebook to Track You

Dennis Faas's picture

A US government contractor has produced software that can track a person's movements and predict their behavior. The software hasn't yet been sold to commercial firms but has been tested, with success.

The project is the work of Massachusetts-based Raytheon and the US government. The software is called "Rapid Information Overlay Technology," or RIOT for short.

RIOT doesn't do anything that humans couldn't do themselves -- it just does it much quicker. It works by gathering together data from people's online activities.

Location-Tagged Photos Help RIOT Software

One of the keys to the software is that it digs out the EXIF (exchangeable image file format) data that is included in virtually all digital photographs, which isn't automatically displayed but can be recovered by using the right tools.

EXIF data often contains the precise geographic location where a photo was taken, along with the date and time.

Depending on how many photographs you've shared online, and whether you've used location services (such as Foursquare or the Places features on Facebook), the RIOT software can figure out where you've been and even where you will likely be in the future. (Source:

The software also keeps track of all public posts you have made. It then builds up a visual representation of your social network to work out who your closest friends, relatives, and colleagues are.

The key to RIOT is that it takes thousands of tiny, individual pieces of information and uses them to produce a comprehensive blueprint of an individual's personality. Raytheon has said it could be adapted to try to predict if an individual was a security risk, bringing to mind the TV drama "Person of Interest."

Technology Could Be Sold Overseas

After the UK-based The Guardian newspaper published details of a secret demonstration video of the software, privacy advocates warned that it might breach the principles of data laws even if it doesn't break any specific rules or laws. (Source:

The newspaper noted that not only has RIOT been promoted at a secretive conference for the security industry, but that it has been approved by the US government. That means the technology could be sold to foreign governments or businesses in the near future.

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