Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Web is now designed to judge your intentions ... and so are the terror conventions.

In both marketing and some definition of crime, what really counts are your intentions.

In several of my presentations on the Digital Footprints that we leave behind us on the Web, I have highlighted the changes in the definition of committing a crime. The film - Minority Report - presented us with the vision of condemning individuals based on their intention or imagination of committing a crime, even if in their dreams. This vision is becoming reality faster than many of us would imagine.

The terror conventions are in the forefront when it comes to defining a crime as the intention to harm people or  property. "Criminal acts intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public (...)" United Nations, December 9, 1994, UN Doc. A/Res/60/49. This still leave it unclear wether you must have committed the act in order to be considered a terrorist, but we already know that many terrorists are arrested before they commit the intented attack. Looking at the  Counter-Terror Social Network Analysis and Intent Recognition (CT-SNAIR) project, the Web component of the prediction of ill-intented individuals becomes more clear.

The interesting match here is that both the terror definition and the lawful and well indented use of the Web for marketing purposes result in the interest in identifying and segmenting the intention or interest of people or groups of people . In the case of terror, you can rightfully say that it makes little sense to claim that a suicide bomber should commit his planned crime before he or she can be arrested and sentenced.

As a very successful advertising and segmentation company, Google knows a lot about our intentions, and former Google CEO Eric Schmidt once said that Google wants to present the answer to us even before we put the question. This makes Google and other Web marketing and search companies interesting for certain type of crime prediction. According to Wikipedia, the Brazilian government topped the list of governments requesting information on citizens from Google between June and December 2009 with 3.663 requests against 3.580 from the US government. The article from Wikipedia also mention possible links to the CIA and NSA, and the US magazine Wired brought earlier this year an article on the logging of much of what we do on the Web.

A similar consideration came up last week during a trial in Denmark where 5 men are accused of committing acts of terrorism. The Danish newspaper Ekstrabladet reports that one of the accused allegedly made a search on his computer on the location and about the attack before the story had been reported by the media. He is now accused of having committed the attack where his Web search pattern is part of the evidence presented to the judge.

So, be aware. Your intentions might frame you. And the systems made for predicting your intent as a consumer, might be tweaked to screen you out as possible ill-intented person or even considered a criminal. Even before you become aware of it, as Google say...