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The Even Spookier Side of Data Analytics

Not surprisingly, the federal government is interested in low-cost methods for tracking people’s every move on the Internet. The intelligence agencies have jumped in to fund analytics startups—especially those using a kind of software called Hadoop—and are some of the biggest buyers of the technology. The spooks are also building their own analytics tools. Two years ago the National Security Agency talked publicly about creating a new type of technology that would grab “essentially every kind of data there is.” In July, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the military’s R&D arm, issued a Social Media in Strategic Communication proposal that called for $42 million to go toward better social networking analysis. The idea is to track the spread of ideas on networks such as Facebook, find people participating in “persuasion campaigns,” and develop countermeasures. “We must eliminate our current reliance on a combination of luck and unsophisticated manual methods,” the agency said.

Vance is a technology writer for Bloomberg Businessweek in Palo Alto, Calif. He is the author of Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future (HarperCollins, May 2015). Follow him on Twitter @valleyhack.

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