I Was a Sock Puppet for the CIA

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Are you seeking an exciting career pretending to be multiple fake people online while serving your country? It could be just a phone call away.

The US military has contracted with a California-based company that makes it easier to create and manage fake identities online. Ntrepid Corp. will be receiving $2.75 million of your and my tax money for the purpose of spreading pro-US propaganda overseas by making it appear that the sentiments are coming from actual living humans and not digital sock puppets.

[ See also: That new Facebook friend might just be a spy ]

Per the UK Guardian:

A Californian corporation has been awarded a contract with United States Central Command (Centcom), which oversees US armed operations in the Middle East and Central Asia, to develop what is described as an "online persona management service" that will allow one US serviceman or woman to control up to 10 separate identities based all over the world....

The Centcom contract stipulates that each fake online persona must have a convincing background, history and supporting details, and that up to 50 US-based controllers should be able to operate false identities from their workstations "without fear of being discovered by sophisticated adversaries".

The military is quick to point out that a) it's not planning to use sock puppets on English language or US-based sites, and ii) it's not targeting Facebook or Twitter at all, regardless of location or language.

Maybe not in this contract, and maybe not today. But you'd best believe this is somebody's plans. There's nothing to stop the military from using this tool domestically if it so chooses. (HBGary Federal, another recipient of our tax dollars and a bidder for that CentCom contract, has already been exposed for using fake Facebook profiles in a misguided effort to uncover the identity of Anonymous.) And can we really trust what these guys tell us? For all we know they used a sock puppet spokesperson.

As media gadfly Jeff Jarvis points out in a Guardian op-ed piece, this is what spammers do all day long. He writes:

I think we can agree that it's sad to see the US government taming the power of the net to stoop to the morals of a clumsy Nigerian spammer.

Interestingly, NTrepid is in fact the same company that makes Anonymizer, a proxy service that allows people to hide their identities on the Web and is often used by political dissidents living under repressive regimes. I've always thought of Anonymizer/Ntrepid CTO Lance Cottrell as one of the good guys. Now I'm not so sure. Creating propaganda-spouting sock puppets isn't my idea of advancing civil liberties or making the Internet a safer place to be.

ITworld TY4NS blogger Dan Tynan is not now and has never been an Internet sock puppet. But he'd be willing to consider it if the pay was right. Experience his juvenile sense of humor at eSarcasm (Geek Humor Gone Wild) or follow him on Twitter:@tynan_on_tech.

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This story, "I Was a Sock Puppet for the CIA" was originally published by ITworld.

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