July 28, 2010
from Wired Website
The investment arms of the CIA and Google are
both backing a company that monitors the web in real time - and says it uses
that information to predict the future.
In a white paper, the company says its temporal analytics engine “goes beyond search” by,
The idea is to figure out for each incident who was involved, where it happened and when it might go down.
Recorded Future then plots that chatter, showing online “momentum” for any given event.
Which naturally makes the 16-person Cambridge,
Massachusetts, firm attractive to Google Ventures, the search giant’s
investment division, and to
In-Q-Tel, which handles similar duties for the
CIA and the wider intelligence community.
In-Q-Tel backed the mapping firm
was bought by Google in 2004 - and then became the backbone for Google
But the investments are bound to be fodder for critics of Google, who already see the search giant as overly cozy with the U.S. government, and worry that the company is starting to forget its “don’t be evil” mantra.
U.S. spy agencies, through In-Q-Tel, have invested in a number of firms to help them better find that information.
Visible Technologies crawls over half a million web 2.0 sites a day, scraping more than a million posts and conversations taking place on blogs, YouTube, Twitter and Amazon. Attensity applies the rules of grammar to the so-called “unstructured text” of the web to make it more easily digestible by government databases.
Keyhole (now Google Earth) is a staple of the targeting cells in military-intelligence units. Recorded Future strips from web pages the people, places and activities they mention.
The company examines when and where these events happened (“spatial and temporal analysis”) and the tone of the document (“sentiment analysis”). Then it applies some artificial-intelligence algorithms to tease out connections between the players.
Recorded Future maintains an index with more than 100 million events, hosted on Amazon.com servers.
The analysis, however, is on the living web.
Recorded Future certainly has the potential to spot events and trends early.
Take the case of Hezbollah’s long-range
missiles. On March 21, Israeli President Shimon Peres leveled the allegation
that the terror group had Scud-like weapons. Scouring Hezbollah leader
Hassan Nasrallah’s past statements, Recorded Future found corroborating
evidence from a month prior that appeared to back up Peres’ accusations.
But it’s safe to assume that the company
already has at least one spy agency’s attention. In-Q-Tel doesn’t make
investments in firms without an “end customer” ready to test out that
Ahlberg says those board members have been “very helpful,” providing business and technology advice, as well as introducing him to potential customers.
Both organizations, it’s safe to say, will profit handsomely if
Recorded Future is ever sold or taken public. Ahlberg’s last company, the
corporate intelligence firm
Spotfire, was acquired in 2007 for $195 million
In-Q-Tel Chief of Staff Lisbeth Poulos e-mailed a one-line statement:
Just because Google and In-Q-Tel have both invested in Recorded Future doesn’t mean Google is suddenly in bed with the government.
Of course, to
Google’s critics - including
conservative legal groups, and
congressmen - the
Obama Administration and the Mountain View, California,
company slipped between the sheets a long time ago.
Senior White House officials like economic chief
Larry Summers give speeches at the New America Foundation, the
left-of-center think tank chaired by Schmidt. Former Google public policy
chief Andrew McLaughlin is now the White House’s deputy CTO, and was
publicly (if mildly) reprimanded by the administration for continuing to
hash out issues with his former colleagues.
Google, as we all know, keeps a titanic amount of information about every aspect of our online lives.
Customers largely have trusted the company so
far, because of the quality of their products, and because of Google’s
pledges not to misuse the information still ring true to many.
Thirty seven state Attorneys General are demanding answers from the company after Google hoovered up 600 gigabytes of data from open Wi-Fi networks as it snapped pictures for its Street View project. (The company swears the incident was an accident.)
Any business dealings with the CIA’s investment
arm are unlikely to make critics like him more comfortable.