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Online surveillance and digital reputations

By John Donovan

An article published yesterday by The Washington Post provides some clues to why Shell’s long-term spy firm associate – Hakluyt & Company – is now operating an equally murky offshoot  – Hakluyt Cyber Limited.

The article is about a similar start-up in the US called Babel Street specialising in online surveillance. Like Hakluyt, it is populated by “former government intelligence veterans”.

Babel Street is said to be “bringing government-style surveillance to an entirely new market” for corporations wishing to track their “digital reputations.” The firm gathers online information – consumer and other postings – by scooping up data from popular sites such as Instagram and other social media platforms.

A selection of extracts from the Washington Post article (“For this company, online surveillance leads to profit in Washington’s suburbs”):

Businesses like Babel Street have to tread an ethical line…”

“They’ve got the ability to go in and look at the entire spectrum of social media platforms…”

As the Internet has evolved, Babel Street’s intelligence work has evolved with it…

Brand management has become an important line of business, as corporations face the increasingly difficult challenge of tracking their digital reputations.

“There are billions of smartphones on the planet,” Chapman says. “All you have to do is listen to them.”

The content of files built up about identifiable individuals, such as myself, posting negative information about corporations and executives, could have potentially sinister applications.

It will only encourage the use of aliases and deter people who would prefer to engage in free speech on the internet under their own names and without being the subject of secret surveillance by big business and their creepy private spooks.

If we had not made a SAR Application to Shell under the UK Data Protection Act we would never have found out that Shell had set up a large hostile team to counter our legitimate online activities and engage in related spying activities.

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