Why have geolocation-based social networks failed

Knowledge development from open sources: How the Bundeswehr and BND justify the monitoring of social networks

We have already reported several times that the Bundeswehr, the Federal Intelligence Service and the Office for the Protection of the Constitution are working on researching social media in real time. The Left Party MP Andrej Hunko asked the Interior Ministry again which procedures and programs should be used. Now the answer has arrived, which we publish here.

Open source intelligence

And this is what the German armed forces want to do:

The Center for Operative Communication of the Bundeswehr (ZOpKomBw) evaluates the situation in the information environment (InfoU) in order to obtain general opinions and moods in the areas of operation and interests of the Bundeswehr abroad. For this purpose, as part of a Concept Development & Experimentation (CD&E) project to analyze the InfoU, open, freely accessible sources - so-called Open Sources - are considered on the Internet, including social media.

The two freely available software packages Textrapic from the Institute for Graphic Knowledge Organization, a startup at the University of Rostock, and Brandwatch from the “Social Media Monitoring” company from England, are to be used as analysis tools. It pays to click through the websites of the two companies: Buzzword Bingo at its best.

Tendencies, trends and anomalies

The Federal Intelligence Service wants to do something similar:

On the basis of previously recognized patterns, tendencies, trends and anomalies are to be recognized in continuous streaming data from “social media” platforms using statistical methods. These are not related to individual persons, but are intended to enable fundamental statements to be made about the dynamics of information flows and a general development of the situation.

The authorities involved do not see any data protection problems. The ruling of the Federal Constitutional Court on the online search is invoked:

There is no interference with general personal rights if a government agency collects communication content available on the Internet that is aimed at everyone or at least a group of people that cannot be further delimited.

But the next paragraph of the judgment also says:

An interference with the right to informational self-determination can be given, however, if information that was obtained by viewing generally accessible content is specifically collated, stored and, if necessary, evaluated with the addition of further data, and this results in a particular risk situation for the personality of the person concerned . A basis for authorization is required for this.

Public is not always public

Yes, data posted on Facebook or other social media is public. However, with the collection, storage, connection with other data and evaluation, a new data set is created that no longer corresponds to the original purpose of the publication. A voluntary indication of religion in one's own profile is something different from a database of the religious affiliation of an entire population. In March last year we reported that attributes such as religion, sexuality and drug use can be predicted from Facebook Likes:

We show that easily accessible digital records of behavior, Facebook Likes, can be used to automatically and accurately predict a range of highly sensitive personal attributes including: sexual orientation, ethnicity, religious and political views, personality traits, intelligence, happiness, use of addictive substances, parental separation, age, and gender.

So in the age of big data, public is not always public. Kai Biermann has just described the power of algorithms and big data in an impressive manner.

Profiling and data protection regulation

The EU Parliament has also recognized this, so the draft of the data protection regulation contains a “right of the data subject not to be subjected to any measure based on profiling”. The rapporteur Jan Philipp Albrecht to netzpolitik.org:

If Parliament has its way, the creation of profiles is linked to special requirements (Article 20), so that in any case there is a justifiable interference with the data protection rights of the data subject - even if the individual information itself has been published beforehand.

This is not yet so easy for German law. Peter Schaar, former Federal Data Protection Officer, told netzpolitik.org:

Given the case law of the Federal Constitutional Court, the answer is not easy. The mere untargeted evaluation of publicly available information should not have an encroaching character. It looks different if the information obtained in this way is (subsequently) personalized. The storage of the data in reserve would therefore have to be assessed differently under data protection and constitutional law than an ongoing, non-targeted personal survey.

The legal opinion of the military and secret services should therefore be re-examined.

Glance into the digital crystal ball

The questioner Andrej Hunko himself comments to netzpolitik.org:

By analyzing participants in a public communication via Twitter or Facebook, conclusions can be drawn about their social contacts. If geolocation is not switched off on Twitter, for example, the whereabouts of people or groups are known. Making this data permanently available to the police and the military is going too far.

The plan is to track down dissatisfaction, ergo unrest in advance and to allow predictions about it. I have no objection if a social authority wants to determine which social problems could arise and what help the population would need to avoid them. But we are talking about applications by the police, the secret services and the military. The civil-military view into the digital crystal ball is intended to help ward off refugees or wage wars. That is not acceptable.

Here is the answer from Ole Schröder, Parliamentary State Secretary at the Federal Minister of the Interior, exempted from the PDF:


As part of defense research and technology (R&T), the Federal Office for Equipment, Information Technology and Use of the Bundeswehr (BAAINBw) intends to carry out an R&T project “Knowledge Development from Open Sources (WeroQ)” in the period from 2014 to 2016. The implementation of this R&T project has not yet begun, as the order in the form of a grant notification from the BAAINBw to the Fraunhofer Institute is still pending.

This R&T project is initially intended to identify those technologies that are suitable for the possibilities of IT-supported news extraction from open sources. It is also intended to investigate which technologies can be used by the Bundeswehr. Only after completion of this defense technology study will it be possible to determine whether text mining technologies can also be used for IT-supported news acquisition. Therefore, at the present time it is not yet possible to say which techniques or OSINT processes could actually be used.

With the “WeroQ” R&T project, the Bundeswehr has no interest in evaluating social media with special privacy requirements.

With regard to the evaluation of social media and the use of TEXTRAPIC and BRANDWATCH by the Bundeswehr, it must be taken into account that the changed communication behavior and interest of all age groups in the use of social media enable reliable recording of the opinions and moods of the population in the areas of operation and interest made possible by the Bundeswehr. The publicly accessible expressions of opinion [1] - comparable in letters to the editor - allow conclusions to be drawn about general moods. In this context, the individual user is not of interest to the Bundeswehr.

([1] Public expressions of opinion in this sense are not subject to any claims by users regarding privacy.)

The Center for Operative Communication of the Bundeswehr (ZOpKomBw) evaluates the situation in the information environment (InfoU) in order to obtain general opinions and moods in the areas of operation and interests of the Bundeswehr abroad. For this purpose, as part of a Concept Development & Experimentation (CD&E) project to analyze the InfoU, open, freely accessible sources - so-called Open Sources - are considered on the Internet, including social media. An analysis of the information environment outside of the Bundeswehr's operational area and area of ​​interest abroad, e.g. in Germany, is excluded as instructed and does not take place.

As part of a project to further develop the capabilities of the ZOpKomBw, analysis tools available on the market for social media are used in almost real time to determine the effectiveness of one's own operations management. It is about the software TEXTRAPIC and BRANDWATCH, which is available and commercially available for everyone on the market, both applications from the civil economy.

TEXTRAPIC is an algorithm from the Institute for Graphic Knowledge Organization (GRAWIS) at the University of Rostock. This prepares text information in terms of content and displays it graphically; it was developed for scientific purposes to deal with large, i.e. complex, amounts of text.

BRANDWATCH is a browser-based software solution from BRANDWATCH GmbH, the German branch of a British company. The product enables the evaluation of online media as part of the marketing of civil companies. They use such tools, among other things, to monitor the effectiveness of their activities. BRANDWATCH has contractually guaranteed the use of freely available data only. In accordance with the contract, no personal data is stored.

TEXTRAPIC and BRANDWATCH are analysis tools for civil use, the functionalities of which are not subject to any further military specifications. The specifications and guidelines of the Bundeswehr for the use of social media are fully complied with. In fl uence on or communication with users of the social networks is technically impossible.

For the Federal Intelligence Service, the focus is on the "real-time analysis of streaming data", not the individual information. Rather, investigations into the dynamics of the information flows should lead to order-relevant findings. On the basis of previously recognized patterns, tendencies, trends and anomalies are to be recognized in continuous streaming data from “social media” platforms using statistical methods. These are not related to individual persons, but are intended to enable fundamental statements about the dynamics of information flows and a general development of the situation. The aim is to follow developments abroad - and not in Germany - in accordance with the statutory mandate of the BND and, in particular, to recognize critical developments in good time.

The operators themselves offer such data (sometimes for a fee) via a specially designed application programming interface (API) for use. There is no interference with general personal rights if a government agency collects communication content available on the Internet that is aimed at anyone or at least a group of people that cannot be further delimited (see BVerfG judgment of February 27, 2008, Az. 1 BvR 370 / 07: 1 BvR 595/07). There is therefore no interference with the fundamental right under Article 10 of the Basic Law.

In principle, all “social media” platforms can contain corresponding information particles. Due to the comparatively high relevance for the detection of critical developments, the automated utilization of the "streaming files" for selected platforms is currently being prototypically investigated.

Neither the Federal Intelligence Service nor the authorities of the Federal Ministry of the Interior use the BRANDWATCH and TEXTRAPIC applications.

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About the author

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Andre has been with netzpolitik.org since 2008 and has been a permanent employee since 2012. He is mainly concerned with investigative research. Andre studied social sciences at the Humboldt University in Berlin and obtained a bachelor's and master's degree on network policy topics. He is a founding member of the digital society, society for freedom rights and netzpolitik.org, member of the Chaos Computer Club and observer at European Digital Rights. He also works as a system administrator, e.g. he set up the first Frag Den Staat mail server and likes to use it. And something about treason. || Contact:Email, OpenPGP, Twitter, Bitcoin.
Published 07/25/2014 at 1:58 PM