Software manual suggests that main use of the system isn’t to monitor individuals but to learn about trends and public sentiment; the real question is what the government will do with it.
By Oded Yaron | 1 April 2017
HAARETZ — The Israeli government has purchased a software system enabling it to monitor social media in general and specific users in particular. The bid, which was won by a company called Buzzilla, specifies that the software must have the ability to “plant an idea in the debate on social networks, web news sites and forums,” reports Ido Kenan on the website Room 404.
The main purpose of the software is to monitor debate on the internet and identify trends and feelings among the public. “From time to time, the ministries have the need for monitoring services, and recovery and processing of data on internet,” the bid request states. “These services are necessary for a range of needs in the government sector, such as generating useful information for the sake of ongoing activity, feasibility testing, identifying trends, identifying needs, and identifying and handling crises.”
The Finance Ministry, which issued the request, further explains that until now, ministries requiring of such services had obtained them from different sources, so it decided to find a system that can supply all of the ministries’ needs.
The problem, writes Kenan, lies in the optional abilities of the system, which include enabling the government to plant ideas in conversations on social networks and forums through an automated or semi-automated mechanism. As Kenan points out, the authors of the proposal request could have written “introduce an idea,” suggest it, present it or some other synonym. Instead, they wrote of the requirement to “plant” the idea using an automated or semi-automated mechanism – meaning without any, or with little, further human intervention. That does not smack of open, transparent discourse, he writes. […]