Online privacy advocates have raised concerns about a software tool developed to mine large amounts of data from social networks such as Facebook, Foursquare and Twitter to track people for surveillance purposes.
The software is called Raytheon Information Overlay Technology Content Management Framework (RIOT/CMF) and has been developed since 2010 by the US defence contractor's Intelligence and Information Systems division, which last year employed 8,300 and earned revenue of US$3 billion.
According to an article in The Guardian, which obtained a video presentation from Raytheon, the RIOT/CMF software can provide a snapshot of people's lives by analysing material they post to social networks, extracting GPS position data from photographs posted with smartphones to chart the places they have visited.
By working out regular movement patterns from the data, RIOT can be used to predict where people will be at given times.
Software like RIOT/CMF raise concerns about how large amounts of information can be covertly collected without oversight and regulation, the US privacy advocate group EPIC told the Guardian.
A Raytheon spokesperson told the Guardian that "RIOT is a big data analytics system design we are working on with industry, national labs and commercial partners to help turn massive amounts of data into usable information to help meet our nation's rapidly changing security needs."
The US company isn't alone in taking advantage of social networking sites for information gathering purposes however.
In August last year, Sydney University released version two of its Geometry for Maximum Insight or GEOMI tool, in development since 2005.
GEOMI is a data visualisation tool that lets police and security organisations map and analyse complex relationships in social networks, email and phone records.
Social networks are also mining their own data, with Facebook's new Graph Search for instance creating controversy over how it can be used to compromise users' privacy and in some cases, security.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation has warned users to reassess their privacy settings on Facebook to avoid being caught up in potentially risky searches such as "family members of people who live in China and like Falun Gong [a religious movement whose members are persecuted by the country's government]". The EFF has called on the social network to allow people to opt out of Graph Search.