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Mining the where: CIA-funded start-up says 80% of online content contains location information

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Last week at Local Social Summit I talked about some of the issues around location and privacy. Especially problematic is people’s inadvertent tagging of their photos with location information – something potentially of interest to crooks, stalkers and others you might not want to know everything about you.

Open-source spying is a term which has been around for a while, reflecting the fact that when it comes to gathering information, the web is often as good a place as going into the field. In-Q-Tel’s investments reflect a justified fascination with the social web by intelligence agencies.

Well it turns out the CIA is also interested in this kind of information. In a post about the CIA’s Silicon Valley VC firm, In-Q-Tel, the Not So Private Parts blog on Forbes found the firm…

…likes companies coming up with better ways to mine social networking sites and geospatial location data. One of its investments, Geosemble, a private spin-off from USC, estimates that “80% of online content has location information.”

80%? Wow.

“Our mission is to shine a torchlight on geographic unknowns and help organizations neutralize threats and capitalize on opportunities in their areas of geographic interest,” says its website. Another of IQT’s geospatial investments, FortiusOne, promises instant maps based on Tweets and photo uploads, for mapping election-day threats in Afghanistan, for example.

The idealist in me is attracted to the data mining stories of humanitarian efforts of platforms like Ushahidi, but we should remember that governments and their agencies are interested in our geo-location information as well.

Bonus link : : Really interesting presentation from FortiusOne on analysing geo-data for business.

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Mining the now: Real time sense making

Here’s an emerging idea about how we can and will make sense of the vast amounts of data becoming available about what is happening right now…

Juliana Rotich (whose work at Ushahidi I’ve discussed on this blog about a year ago) writes on her Afromusing blog about pulling together the ability to crowdsource the gathering and making sense of data in real time (which is what Ushahidi and the related Swift River project do) with the concept of the internet of things (objects and systems connected to the internet and making data available continuously):

Allow me to use the word holistic. As in holistic near ‘real time sense-making‘, incorporating the internet of things, with crowdsourced data delivered through channels that encourage participation. There is an opportunity to see things dynamically and not just do after-the-fact post mortem. This could work for flash point events like the Haiti earthquake (taking data [from] Geiger counters etc + crowdsourced data like that available on the haiti deployment run by Noula.ht. It could also work for longer term events such as the BP Oil spill in Louisiana.

Juliana quotes Jeff Jonas, a scientist at IBM:

…the closer to real-time one can get the right answer and respond, the better. And milliseconds matter.

The concept of real time sense making offers so many tantalising possibilities, from predicting the behaviour of human social networks to helping those networks (countries, companies, NGOs) respond to emergencies and more broadly to the challenges we face globally.

Be sure to check out Juliana’s original post for some amazing examples of how this concept is being put to work.

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Image: Literally, a swift river…