Sunday, 24 March 2013

Spyware that reveals who you are, where you are

Posted  Saturday, March 23  2013 at  22:24

A Steven Spielberg sci-fi movie a few years ago, “Minority Report,” told of a pre-crime police unit where the cops know a person is about to commit a murder. Their information is supplied by mutated humans with precognitive abilities, sort of second sight to you and me.That was supposedly 2054. Now it is 2013 and already such a scenario – but a more realistic one – is coming into view. A British paper recently declared, “Big Brother spyware can predict future crime”.Experts say software has been invented which can track an individual’s behaviour by mining vast amounts of information from social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter.A detailed picture is built up about the person’s life, interests and habits, including information about his friends and contacts, movements and locations, and this can be used to predict where the individual might be in future and with whom.

Nick Pickles of Big Brother Watch said, “People have been sharing large amounts of information on social networks without knowing the consequences. Now companies are looking at how to join the dots.”The software programme in question is named Riot (Rapid Information Overlay Technology) and has been created by Raytheon, a US-based group, which is the world’s fifth largest defence contractor.A spokesman said the software had not yet been sold to any companies but had been shared with the American government as part of research to build a national security system.The development has caused alarm among human rights campaigners who described it as “the greatest challenge to civil liberties and digital freedom of our age”.Taking information from public websites for law enforcement purposes is considered legal in most countries but campaigners are now demanding regulation of such activities.Using cybernetic information in commercial marketing is already taking over from surveys, opinion polls and focus groups. They call it neuromarketing, or “brain whispering,” in which pleasure responses are tracked in the brain and information stored for future use.

This is the scene favoured by sci-fi writers: A man stops and looks into a shop window and immediately the store computer, identifying him from his irises, calls softly, “Good morning, Mr Smith. Have you come for another slim-fit shirt? We know you are fond of this particular range and we have received new deliveries since you were here last, all in your size and favoured colour…”The “precogs” of Spielberg’s movie did not bother me too much, they seemed pretty far-fetched, but the idea of somebody scouring Facebook and Twitter for personal information about us is distinctly scary.
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Inspectors checked standards of care for old people in 50 UK hospitals and found 17 deficient. Call bells were left unanswered, help was lacking at meal times and for toilet visits, privacy was not always provided for washing and dressing and too often nurses talked to each other as if the old person was not there.In terms of privacy and dignity, the situation had worsened since 2011, said the Care Quality Commission.A spokesperson for pensioners, Dot Gibson, said, “This is tantamount to institutionalised abuse. Where else in our society would we tolerate such neglect without a huge public outcry?” Care minister Norman Lamb said he expected swift action to be taken against offenders.
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An airline reservations agent based in Washington DC reported conversations he had in his job with US legislators and their aides:
– A Congresswoman asked for an aisle seat so her hair would not get messed up by being near the window.
– A Congressman’s staffer asked for information about flights to Cape Town. The agent started explaining about passport information but the staffer interrupted, “I’m not trying to make you look stupid, but Cape Town is in Massachusetts.” The agent explained, “Cape Cod is in Massachusetts, Cape Town is in South Africa.” Response: Click.
– A senator called and said, “I have to fly to Pepsi-Cola, Florida. Do I have to get one of those little computer planes?” The agent asked, “Do you mean a commuter plane to Pensacola, Florida?” She said, “Yeah, whatever, smarty!”
– A Congresswoman asked how her flight could possibly leave Detroit at 8.30 and get to Chicago at 8.33. The agent explained that Detroit was an hour ahead of Chicago, but she could not understand the concept of time zones. Finally, the agent said the plane went very fast and she bought that.
– A senator asked about documents needed to fly to China and the agent said she needed a visa. “Oh, no I don’t,” the senator said. “I’ve been to China four times and they have always accepted my American Express.”
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A married couple were asleep when the phone rang. The husband listened for a moment then said, “How the heck should I know? I’m not the weatherman,” and hung up. “Who was that?” the wife asked. “No idea,” said the husband, “some fellow wanting to know if the coast is clear.”

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