Advertising Age today reported on government investment in online social media monitoring tools. This enables the CIA, among other government agencies, to listen to your conversations on your favorite social media channels: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and so on.
Some questions arise:
- First, will the CIA really find any actionable intelligence? And even if they do, will they know how to respond?
- Second, what kinds of privacy issues are at stake? While anything on the public timeline seems fair game, what about direct messaging, which is supposed to be private? (To my mind, searching DMs is equivalent to tapping a phone line.) It seems to me that a prospective terrorist would not be dumb enough to post anything incriminating on the public timeline. That said, a couple of high profile incidents emerged recently where crooks were nabbed as a result of carelessness using Facebook. (e.g., Thief logs into Facebook at scene of crime) But this kind of thing is small beans for the CIA (maybe not the FBI).
- Third, given the kinds of uncertainties, is this an approriate use of taxpayer money? Do these services offer much more than what could be achieved configuring searches on Google? It seems a fair bet to me that the CIA could monitor enough innocuous data on social media that they may be able to pick up encrypted or disguised messages. In that case, such expenditures would be appropriate. But if they’re just on a fishing expedition, on the chance something might turn up, perhaps a more strategic approach would be warranted.
I wonder if this like a company deciding, oh let’s get into social media because everyone else is, and then falling flat on their face.