Facebook, the CIA, and You.

2007-07-07 01:34:00

We may use information about you that we collect from other sources, including but not limited to newspapers and Internet sources such as blogs, instant messaging services and other users of Facebook, to supplement your profile."

Let's start right there. The quote above is from Facebook's Terms and Conditions -- specifically, their privacy policy. With a declaration like that, you have to give these folks credit for being pretty damn blunt about the nature of the game. Facebook is a long-term investment in my generation, just like MySpace. The payoff these days is millions and millions in advertising revenue -- but what about the payoff one decade from now, when their databases have multi-gigabyte files about you? Your interests, habits, porn preferences, mindless surveys, purchases, friends, bulletins, and little sparkly animated .gif files? How much do you think that information will be worth -- to advertisers, to corporations, to the military, to intelligence services?

Just Kids Being Kids

Mark Zuckerberg FacebookAnyone who has concerns about their "privacy" being violated by Facebook is completely, unconditionally justified in their concern. After all, Facebook was born out of data theft -- founder Mark Zuckerberg stole tens of thousands of digital files on his fellow Harvard students, directly from the University's "secure" servers. Maybe that's alarming to you, but I find it endearingly psychotic. Anyone who can found a multi-billion dollar business with stolen property is worth paying attention to. From the always-excellent Fast Company magazine:

Harvard didn't offer a student directory with photos and basic information, known at most schools as a face book. Zuckerberg wanted to build an online version for Harvard, but the school "kept on saying that there were all these reasons why they couldn't aggregate this information," he says. "I just wanted to show that it could be done." So one night early in his sophomore year, he hacked into Harvard's student records. He then threw up a basic site called Facemash, which randomly paired photos of undergraduates and invited visitors to determine which one was "hotter" (not unlike the Web site Hot or Not). Four hours, 450 visitors, and 22,000 photo views later, Harvard yanked Zuckerberg's Internet connection. After a dressing-down from the administration and an uproar on campus chronicled by The Harvard Crimson, Zuckerberg politely apologized to his fellow students. But he remained convinced he'd done the right thing: "I thought that the information should be available." (Harvard declined to comment on the episode.)

The next anaecdote in the article is even more telling and fairly funny, too. Since Fast Company was kind enough not to sue me over my excessive quotitude in the Clotaire Rapaille article, I figure I'll push the envelope a little further:

The new project consumed so much of his time that by the end of the first semester, with just two days to go before his art-history final, he was in a serious jam: He needed to be able to discuss 500 images from the Augustan period. "This isn't the kind of thing where you can just go in and figure out how to do it, like calculus or math," he says, without a trace of irony. "You actually have to learn these things ahead of time." So he pulled a Tom Sawyer: He built a Web site with one image per page and a place for comments. Then he emailed members of his class and invited them to share their notes, like a study group on cybersteroids. "Within two hours, all the images were populated with notes," he says. "I did very well in that class. We all did."

Regardless of your moral stance on cheating, you have to admit the dude is CEO material. Anyone willing to cheat on such a brazen and effective level is worth giving a lot of money to, these days. That's what Venture Capitalism is all about.

Speaking of Venture Capitalism

In-Q-Tel LogoIn-Q-Tel is interesting company. Considering they've changed their name 3 times in 8 years and all their money comes from the CIA, that's probably inevitable. Their website lays things out in simple and upfront terms (allegedly):

In-Q-Tel was established in 1999 as an independent, private, not-for-profit company to help the CIA and the greater US Intelligence Community (IC) to identify, acquire, and deploy cutting-edge technologies. In-Q-Tel's entrepreneurial strategic investment and technology advancement model gives it the agility - lacking within traditional government approaches - to help the IC benefit from the rapid pace of change in information technology and other emerging technology fields. In-Q-Tel's mission is to deliver leading-edge capabilities to the CIA and the IC by investing in the development of promising technologies. Because early-stage technologies are often unproven, In-Q-Tel takes the calculated risks necessary to develop, prove, and deliver them to the Intelligence Community.

In-Q-Tel is very much worth investigating further. I don't mean that as an ominous, pre-Casolaro warning -- it's just that the company's portfolio is full of fascinating companies doing fascinating work. I would also recommend, to any college-attending humans reading this, investigating their Outreach Program. I realize some readers find that immoral, but it's worth noting that money with blood on it is still valid currency, exchangable for food, equipment and firearms.

Ever heard of Attensity? "Two of the clearest and most charismatic speakers in the text mining business are Attensity cofounders Todd Wakefield and David Bean," sez Text Technologies. (That's a site worth digging around, by the way.)

Keyhole, Inc was also an asset of In-Q-Tel until Google bought them in 2004, for an undisclosed sum. Keyhole does work in "geospatial data visualization applications," but we know them as the engine behind GoogleEarth, the greatest piece of software humankind has ever created.

In-Q-Tel has considerable overlapping tentacles with SAIC -- the Science Applications International Corporation, who are a study unto themselves. If you're unfamiliar with their $8 billion global operation, you should definitely check out this recent Vanity Fair article.

Stay Skeptical

They Rule Wal-MartOf course all this information is interesting -- but where's the connection to Facebook? Does this mean that Facebook is somehow a CIA front company as well? I'd have to say "hell no," but let's take a look at the basic equation behind the claim so you can, like...decide for yourself.

It's a long chain of association: once Facebook begins to take off, venture capital firm ACCEL gives facebook $12.7 million. One of the 18 member investors of Accel, James Bryer, is also on the board of a venture capital firm called NVCA. Sitting on the board of NVCA with Bryer is Gilman Louie, who is on the board of In-Q-Tel. Gilman Louie is also responsible for bringing Tetris to the United States. He got started in video games, and developed several flight simulators for the Air Force.

The NVCA link is weakest in the chain. First of all, James Bryer and Gilman Louie were two of twenty-six board members. Second of all, and probably more important: neither Bryer nor Louie are on the NVCA board any longer. (Here's a list of the 2007-2008 officers.) Currently, Gilman Louie is still doing work with In-Q-Tel, and Bryer is on the board of directors for good old Wal Mart -- which actually is a conspiracy, and probably a CIA front as well.

For the sake of objectivity, here's how Prison Planet sums things up:

So who do we have to thank for this? According to the official story, TheFaceBook was founded by 3 students from the CIA's favorite breeding ground of Harvard University. Their first $500,000 in funding came from Peter Thiel, founder and former CEO of Paypal. Thiel is also a former columnist for the Wall Street Journal and a graduate of Stanford University, the home of NSA computer research and CIA mind control projects like MK ULTRA. He is an avowed neocon and globalist whose book "The Diversity Myth" received praises from William Kristol, Christopher Cox, Edward Meese, and Linda Chavez. Thiel sits on the board of the radical right-wing VanguardPAC and he personally donated $21,200 to Arnold Schwarzenegger's campaign for governor.

It's funny how the CIA's "favorite breeding ground" changes every time the phrase comes up -- is it MIT? Yale? Stanford? Virginia Tech? Depends on the article you're writing, apparently. Small quibbles aside, the basic concept here is fundamentally sound: Facebook, just like MySpace and every single other large-scale interactive website in existence, is designed to collect demographic data about the people who use it.

Is this a violation of your right to privacy? Yes and no.

Yes, of course it is, but no, you don't have a right to privacy and you never did. Nobody does. If you're reading this article, everything you do is being backed up to multiple databases. (If you have any illusions about "anonymizers" or "encryption", please do us both a favor and read this Crytogon article ASAP.)

High-Tech Stupid

There's also the question of effectiveness -- although "Data Mining" is a hot buzzword, and the "War on Terror" is the catchphrase of the century, are they really two great tastes that belong together? Surprisingly, quite a number of experts say "hell no."

The most vocal and eloquent among them are Jeff Jonas and Jim Harpers, who recently published a paper in Policy Analysis titled Effective Counterterrorism and the Limited Role of Predictive Data Mining. That's a mouthfull, and it breaks down to this:

One of the fundamental underpinnings of predictive data mining in the commercial sector is the use of training patterns. Corporations that study consumer behavior have millions of patterns that they can draw upon to profile their typical or ideal consumer. Even when data mining is used to seek out instances of identity and credit card fraud, this relies on models constructed using many thousands of known examples of fraud per year. Terrorism has no similar indicia. With a relatively small number of attempts every year and only one or two major terrorist incidents every few years -- each one distinct in terms of planning and execution -- there are no meaningful patterns that show what behavior indicates planning or preparation for terrorism. Unlike consumers shopping habits and financial fraud, terrorism does not occur with enough frequency to enable the creation of valid predictive models. Without patterns to use, one fallback for terrorism data mining is the idea that any anomaly may provide the basis for investigation of terrorism planning. More concretely, though, using data mining in this way could be worse than searching at random; terrorists could defeat it by acting as normally as possible.

This is really one of the major flaws in the War on Terror, period. Consider the recent "attack" in Glasgow -- I was in Ireland when that happened and people weren't "terrified", they weren't even alarmed. They were rolling their eyes and laughing. Driving a Jeep into the front door and setting yourself on fire? These people are retarded. This is the enemy we're supposed to live in fear of?

Glasgow Terror Jeep Attack

Further Reading for Curious Primates

First, some recent additions to the BIPT Library:

The Geeks of War - John Edwards

Facebook: Threats to Privacy A 2005 report, weighing in at 76 pages, that adresses this question in considerably more depth than this article.

Introduction to Data Mining and Knowledge Discovery A very readable primer, 39 pages long.

If this kind of stuff is interesting to you -- and I can understand if it's not -- then I'd like to recommend two websites to you that will prove invaluable. The first is Cryptogon, which I was late to catch on to. That's always a good thing, because it means there's a huge archive to catch up on, and I'm still data mining to this day. Cryptogon is run by Kevin Flaherty, who's written some very juicy stuff, and it's become one of the few sites I check up on daily, along with PhysOrg and of course, the news page of J. Orlin Grabbe. (Hail Eris.)

The second site is DefenseTech -- a news portal that is a flat-out goldmine for anyone interested in the tools and technology that are used to supress dissent and control the world. If that's not interesting to you, I find that confusing. To each their own, though, and that's a beautiful thing.

Brainsturbator Forum LogoAlso, if you're interested in what will become a future Brainsturbator article on the Sentient World Simulator -- essentially a full-scale virtual Earth built by DARPA for wargaming and economic testing, check out the resources collection in the forum. Brainsturbator Forum is rapidly growing into a monster with far more resources and information than the actual Brainsturbator site -- my humble thanks to everyone who is making that possible.

And of course, this article is an outgrowth of the ongoing project at Skilluminati Research and there will be much more along these lines over there for anyone curious:

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