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Investigation-Sourcing & Technology: Crime Fighting In the 21st Century

Investigation-Sourcing & Technology: Crime Fighting In the 21st Century

Advanced technology and online social networking is changing nearly everything about the way people interact – including how criminals pull off illegal stunts, and how law enforcement responds to these acts. In light of the Boston bombings, which blew up in a flurry of public involvement and social media leads, it’s worth taking a look at how crowdsourcing has spurred crimesourcing, and subsequently, what is now being called investigation-sourcing, or the collective detective.

The Rise Of Crowdsourcing

The advent of crowdsourcing – obtaining services, ideas or products from a large, undefined group, primarily online, rather than a singular traditional outlet – pulls together the resources of the many to benefit a clearly outlined project or goal. First coined in a 2006 edition of Wired magazine, the term crowdsourcing has caught on like wildfire and is now used to describe familiar phenomena like Indiegogo and Kickstarter campaigns (crowdfunding), Threadless.com T-shirt competitions (crowdvoting), reality TV shows like American Idol and even information shared in online message boards and forums.

Some of the most notable examples of crowdsourcing in action:

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  • In 2006, Netflix started a campaign that invited the public to develop a more accurate way of recommending movies based on similar tastes. Three years later, a company called BellKor’s Pragmatic Chaos cashed in Netflix’s $1 million promise for the algorithm that is well known by Netflix users today.
  • One Canadian gold mining company called Goldcorp was facing bankruptcy in 2007 when it put out a call to the public to help locate the gold within its mines. After posting its full datasets online, a member of the public employed never-before-used gold mining techniques to find the gold, save the company and take home the $500,000 reward.

The Cons Of Crimesourcing

Yet, for all the progress made by crowdsourcing, a dark side has also arisen. The streamlined collaboration that seamlessly emerges due to the nature of crowdsourcing has unfortunately also led to what is being called “crimesourcing.” As easily as companies, governments or entrepreneurs can tap into the genius of the crowd, so, too, can criminals. Crimesourcing denotes the process by which criminals, including hackers, mobsters and bank robbers, convince or, more often, con a group of citizens into playing a role in their devious scheme.

Marc Goodman, the LAPD cop who started the county’s first Interpol system in the 1990s and founder of the Future Crimes Institute, says cyber criminals are a lot like start up companies – they want money, they want a challenge, and they want to leverage their skills. Unfortunately, cyber hacks are all too common and criminals can “crimesource” by using the anonymity of the Internet to get unwitting bystanders to be accomplices in their plot. Sometimes, the crime is as typical as hacking into an account, and sometimes crimesourcing can be more creative.

Some of the most ingenious ways criminals are crimesourcing:

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  • Like the recently popular “flash mobs,” people are organizing online anonymously to decide a time and place to descend upon a designated store to collectively rob the establishment. Sometimes these “flash robs” will happen in broad daylight, end up injuring bystanders and allow for most of the perpetrators to escape.
  • In one particularly clever escapade, one bank robber in Seattle posed as an employer on Craigslist and convinced a group of people to dress in their construction gear to apply for a high-paying job, all at the same time at the exact location of the bank he was robbing. Of course, he was dressed in the same gear and got away, as a dozen decoys were already in place when the cops rolled in.
  • Dealing in the online realm, one ploy to break into Yahoo email invited users to break CAPTCHA codes in order to receive free pornography; the hacker devised it so that every CAPTCHA code that someone cracked spilled the secrets to another’s sensitive information.

Even amidst the chaos of the Boston manhunt, hackers were taking advantage of the sensationalism in the media, sending out emails with subject lines like “Explosion at Boston Marathon” and “Boston explosion caught on video” that unleashed a virus onto the victim’s computer. The Associated Press’s Twitter account was also hacked in the middle of the week, falsely tweeting that the White House had been attacked, causing the stock market to drop in response.

In a time when technology can allow for great innovation but also great crime, law enforcement is employing some 21st century strategies for catching these smart cyber criminals.

Investigation-sourcing & The Boston Marathon

Is crimesourcing giving way to investigation-sourcing? While there surely is a catchier name for it out there, investigation-sourcing is precisely what the FBI employed to catch the Boston bombers. Using a mixture of social media leads, video camera footage and citizen responses, law enforcement optimized crowdsourcing to jump straight onto the trail of the two bombers.

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The Boston bombing is the largest crowdsourcing police operation to date, with floods of information swarming the FBI offices. Though the vast waves of information that were collected during the Boston manhunt culminated in a successful capture, a lot of misinformation was spread, too. Outlets like Reddit, Twitter, The New York Post and even CNN reported falsely accused suspects, while the Boston police Twitter was oversaturated with Tweets and AT&T had to issue a warning that their cell towers were getting overloaded.

Former FBI Chief and manager of Kroll’s cyber-investigations practice, Timothy Ryan, said in an interview that it’s better to over-collect information than to under-collect. Now, with citizen journalism ramping up, as evidenced by the outpour of crowdsourced police data, it’s time to refine the methods even further.

Growing Trends & New Strategies

Smart technology is making detective work smarter, faster and more reliable. It was pretty incredible that the Boston bombers were identified in such a short period of time and caught within one week, but what if, amidst all the data, computers were able to sift through the evidence rather than use the immense manpower it must have required? A Silicon Valley company is working on developing technology that does just that. Crowd Optic is an app that uses visual mining technology to compile images and determine the most popular photos at an event – a helpful analytical tool in emergencies such as the Boston bombing.

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Another innovative tool is from Topsy Labs: they’ve got a database of every Tweet ever created since June 2010, as well as the ability to search old Tweets for catchphrases like “bomb,” for example, and then use geo-referencing to pinpoint the locations of these conversations. This is one way that investigators are able to leverage technology to “pull signal from the noise” and hone in on perpetrators of crime.

Call it the “collective detective” or call it “investigation-sourcing,” either way, technology is ramping up to help the FBI catch on to criminals quicker and quicker. Some theories are going around that eventually, predictive analytics will allow law enforcement to predict crimes before they happen, not using psychics like in Minority Report, but just really, really smart technology. Along with this theory and current technology on the market, of course, there are concerns about authorities becoming too much like “Big Brother.”

Hopefully, smart technology will be used for catching criminals and not abusing power. So far, it doesn’t seem like many people are upset that the Boston bombers could be captured so quickly, nor was there a lack of people contributing evidence to the case. Crowdsourcing technology is just at the beginning of its stint in law enforcement; the Boston manhunt really opened the door to using “collective detective” tools for help in solving other crimes – like finding missing children, for example.

Online Tools & Personal Protection

As for protecting yourself online from getting duped by these super smart and sneaky cyber criminals, there are a few tangible actions you can take.

  1. Protect your identity. Never give out personal or sensitive information online, even to someone claiming to be an employer or an official. Oftentimes, cyber criminals will pose as others to get this information out of you.
  2. Don’t download anything from an insecure connection or an untrusted network. Even if the website tells you that you need to download a bot for a program to work, make sure the domain is familiar and trusted.
  3. If you’re really interested in working with someone online, ask for their full identification and do a criminal background check through an online service like Instant Checkmate to verify their legitimacy. Cyber criminals won’t always give you correct information, but if they hesitate to provide these details in the first place, that’s a clear red flag.

From crowdsourcing to crimesourcing to the collective detective, interactive technology is laying the groundwork for some innovative, as well as challenging, opportunities to connect online. The bottom line is that as technology progresses, all sorts of people will find all sorts of uses for it, so it’s important to stay ahead of the curve. Every action will have a reaction, and it’s an exciting time to be navigating the novelty of crowdsourcing technology.

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Last Updated on August 29, 2018

5 Killer Online Journal Tools That Make Journaling Easier and More Fun

5 Killer Online Journal Tools That Make Journaling Easier and More Fun

Journaling is one of the most useful personal development tools around. Not only does it help us process emotions and experiences, work through internal conflicts and improve our self-awareness, it also provides us with a way to keep a day-to-day record of our lives. Traditionally an activity limited to pen and paper, the expansion of consumer technology has enabled journaling to go digital.

Saving your journaling entries online enables you to access them from anywhere, without having to carry a notebook and pen around, and provides you with digital features, like tagging and search functions.

Here are a list of five online journaling tools you can use to bring your practice into the modern age:

1. 750words

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750 words

    750words is a free online journaling tool created by Buster Benson. The site is based on the idea of “Morning Pages”; a journaling tool Julia Cameron suggests in her creativity course The Artist’s Way. Cameron advises aspiring creatives to start each morning with three pages of stream-of-consciousness writing to clear away the mental clutter, leaving you with a clearer mind to face the day.

    750 words is the three-page digital equivalent (assuming the average person writes 250 words per page) and lets you store all your journaling online. Each morning, you’ll receive a prompt asking you to write your 750 words, and the site keeps track of various statistics associated with your entries. The site uses a Regressive Imagery Dictionary to calculate the emotional content from your posts and provides feedback on features like your mood, and most commonly used words.

    750 words is simple to set up and is ideal for anyone who finds it challenging to maintain a consistent journaling practice. The site uses a number of incentives to motivate users, including animal badges awarded to journalers who complete a certain number of days in a row, leader boards, and opt-in monthly challenges.

    2. Ohlife

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    ohlife

      Ohlife is designed to make online journaling as easy as possible. Once you’ve signed up for your free account, the website will send you an email each day asking “How did your day go?” Simply reply to the email with as much or as little detail as you like, and your response will be stored on your account, ready to view next time you log in.

      Ohlife’s appeal lies in its simplicity: no stats, no social sharing, no complicated organisational systems—the site is designed to provide you with a private, online space. Simply respond to the email each day (or skip the days you’re busy) and Ohlife will do the rest.

      3. Oneword

      oneword

        OneWord is a fun online tool that provides you with a single word as a prompt and gives you sixty seconds to write about it. The concept’s aim is to help writers learn how to flow, and the prompts range from the everyday mundane to the profound.

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        Oneword is not a private journaling tool: if you sign up, your answers will be published on the site’s daily blog, which contains a stream of users’ answers, and might be used by Oneword in the future. If you’d rather keep your answers to yourself, you can still use the tool for fun without giving out any personal details.

        4. Penzu

          Penzu is a journaling tool that allows you to store your journaling notes online. The service also offers mobile apps for iOS, Android and Blackberry, so you can journal on the go and save your notes to your account. The basic service is free, however you can upgrade to Penzu Pro and get access to additional features, including military-grade encryption and the ability to save and sync data through your mobile, for $19 per year.

          With either version of Penzu, you can insert pictures, and add tags and comments to entries, as well as search for older entries. You can set your posts to be private and viewable by you only, or share them with others.

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          5. Evernote

          Evernote isn’t a purpose-built journaling tool, however its features make it perfect for keeping your journaling notes in one safe place. With the ability to keep separate “notebooks”, tag your entries, include pictures, audio and web clipping, Evernote will appeal to journalers who want to include more formats than just text in their entries.

          Available online within a web browser, and as a stand-alone desktop app, the service also comes with a series of mobile apps covering almost every device available. These allow you to make notes on the go and sync between the mobile and browser versions of the app.

          For additional features, including text recognition and the ability to collaborate on Notebooks, you can upgrade to Evernote’s premium service, which costs $5 per month.

          Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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