DARPA has developed a new data mining tool called Memex that scrapes the web in ways Google does not even try. Currently it is being used by law enforcement agencies to go after sex traffickers, but its uses could eventually be broadened. The Wall Street Journal reports:
Unlike a Google search, Memex can search not only for text but also for images and latitude/longitude coordinates encoded in photos. It can decipher numbers that are part of an image, including handwritten numbers in a photo, a technique traffickers often use to mask their contact information. It also recognizes photo backgrounds independently of their subjects, so it can identify pictures of different women that share the same backdrop, such as a hotel room—a telltale sign of sex trafficking, experts say.Also unlike Google, it can look into, and spot relationships among, not only run-of-the-mill Web pages but online databases such as those offered by government agencies and within online forums (the so-called deep Web) and networks like Tor, whose server addresses are obscured (the so-called dark Web).
The reality is that governments, corporations and anybody else with a deep pocket and a desire to know will increasingly be able to know much more about you than you think. This means, for example, that a foreign dictator who doesn’t like what a U.S.-based reporter writes about him can find out where her kids go to school, her financial details and just about anything else he might want to know. That will be even more true of people inside of their own country; the world’s secret police, intelligence agencies and criminal networks are becoming much more empowered.In the naive era of the snowden revelations, many American civil libertarians worried about the NSA or other U.S. government organizations snooping on the web. But increasingly, it’s beginning to look as if the U.S. government might end up being one of the more benign presences out there, and Americans may ultimately come to rely on a strong federal presence in cyberspace as their chief defense against various criminals and bad guys.If nothing else, the advent of tools like Memex should serve as a reminder that we are still in the very early stages of the information revolution. The internet is anything but mature and complete, and its ongoing development will provide us with many startling surprises—some pleasant and life enhancing, but some very much not. Technology is racing far ahead of our laws, our institutions and even our social imagination, and the information revolution is just getting started.