Searching for terrorists on MySpace

Pentagon sets its sights on social networking websites

New Scientist has discovered that Pentagon’s National Security Agency, which specialises in eavesdropping and code-breaking, is funding research into the mass harvesting of the information that people post about themselves on social networks.

[The paper] entitled Semantic Analytics on Social Networks, […] reveals how data from online social networks and other databases can be combined to uncover facts about people. The footnote said the work was part-funded by an organisation called ARDA.

ARDA’s role is to spend NSA money on research that can “solve some of the most critical problems facing the US intelligence community”. Chief among ARDA’s aims is to make sense of the massive amounts of data the NSA collects – some of its sources grow by around 4 million gigabytes a month.

The new addiction

Today’s college students have to confront many temptations that I never had to worry about back when dinosaurs roamed the earth. I never had to deal with Internet porn, designer drugs, or for that matter, any semblance of social life.

The latest concern is how much time and money kids are spending on online poker. The NYT is running a story about the problem, and about a Lehigh University sophomore who robbed a bank to pay back his gambling debts. He had lost over $7,500 playing online poker in a little over a year.

And he’s not alone – online poker has become one of the most popular pastimes at American colleges. A lot of kids even play on their laptops during lectures, thanks to high speed internet access and wireless networks.

An estimated 1.6 million of 17 million U.S. college students gambled online last year, mostly on poker. According to a study by the Annenberg Public Policy Center, the number of college males who reported gambling online once a week or more quadrupled in the last year alone.

Our debt as society

The NYT reports on the national debt in Reasons to Worry.

Since becoming president, George Bush has presided over one of the steepest peacetime rises ever in the federal debt. The gross federal debt now exceeds $8.3 trillion. There are three reasons for the post-2000 increase: reduced revenue during the 2001 recession, generous tax cuts for higher income groups and increased expenditures not only on warfare abroad but also on welfare at home. And if projections from the Congressional Budget Office turn out to be correct, we are just a decade away from a $12.8 trillion debt — more than double what it was when Bush took office.

But perhaps a worse problem is the individual debt of American families.

Not only do Americans borrow as never before; they also save remarkably little. The impressive resilience of American consumer spending in the past 15 years has been based partly on a collapse in the personal savings rate from around 7.5 percent of income to below zero.