A Brief History of LifeLog, Facebook, DARPA’s, Information Awareness Office (IAO), and Why You Should Care About Any of It
Understanding the history and implications of developing ever-evolving technology to shape the future of culture.
Before the social media site Facebook was open to the general public, it was marketed to college students as a type of directory under the name Facemash, and later Thefacebook.com. According to USA Today, “The social media juggernaut cut "the" from the name in 2005 and lifted its college students-only restriction in 2006.”
Facebook’s original mission statement was, “To give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.” This mission statement was later changed in 2017 to focus more on building a community through connectivity, rather than the emphasis being on sharing, "To give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together."
“TheFacebook” was launched Feb 4, 2004, by the now famous Mark Zuckerberg, who at the time was attending Harvard University. According to a 2008 article published in Rolling Stone, “Sitting alone in his dorm room that night in 2003, Zuckerberg had just been jilted by a girl. He started drinking and once again sought solace in the realm that never let him down. Logging on to his blog, he created an entry titled ‘Harvard Face Mash: The Process.’ His plan was as simple as it was vindictive: create a site called Facemash.com, hack into Harvard’s directory, download photographs of his classmates and post them online next to photos of farm animals to rate who was more desirable.”
Zuckerberg spent the better part of 2003 hiring other students to help code his new baby, Facemash, and by January 2004, he had started writing code for TheFacebook.com. Less than a month later Facebook was launched.
When Facebook was first rolled out on the World Wide Web on February 4, 2004, very few were aware of the “coincidental” switchover from DARPA’s LifeLog to this new social media site where users posted highlights from their day-to-day happenings and special events, usually in the form of images or videos. While most claims online say there is no relation to LifeLog being canceled on the same day Facebook rolled out, it’s hard to not question their connections when it appears their end goals were very much the same, collecting personal data and training facial recognition software in the name of “precrime” or “predictive policing” post 9/11.
Just prior to the events of September 11, 2001, DARPATech had their annual conference where the then-deputy director of the Office of Information Systems Management, Brian Sharkey coined the term “total information awareness” in his presentation.
The basic idea was to surveil the entire U.S. population using an “all-seeing” online military program to prevent incoming foreign terror attacks on the nation. Former United States National Security Advisor to President Regan Admiral John Poindexter designed what was named the Total Information Awareness (TIA) program in 2002, under DARPA. Poindexter referred to the program as a “Manhattan Project for counter-terrorism.”
The general public immediately took issue with the government’s data mining capabilities and especially with using technology to acquire personal and private information from U.S. citizens in the name of “predictive policing”.
“This is all for your safety.” Right?
The ACLU took a long look at the Pentagon’s TIA program and raised concerns that later reached Congress, which was not satisfied with the program’s response to the issues surrounding protecting privacy and the government’s usage of collected data.
Prominent contractors involved in the TIA program included Lockheed Martin with 23 contracts worth $27 million, the Schafer Corporation with 9 contracts totaling $15 million, and Booz Allen & Hamilton with 13 contracts worth $23 million. No less than 24 universities received almost $10 million during the last five years to do research on TIA-related projects, with the larger grants going to UC Berkeley, Cornell, and Columbia University.
During DARPATech’s August 2002 Conference held in Anaheim, California, Poindexter discussed programs that included not only TIA, but the development of Genoa, Genoa II, GENISYS, EELD, WAE, TIDES, HumanID, and Bio-Surveillance, with the promise that using these programs would result in producing “a complete, end-to-end, closed-loop proto-type systems in a realistic environment.”
However, the Total Information Awareness program was short-lived. Pentagon officials delivered their report on the program to Congress in regards to the goals, cost, and impact on civil liberties of U.S. citizens in May 2003, where they declared a name change of “Terrorism Information Awareness” before the program was defunded by Congress in July of 2003 and canceled altogether later that September.
Poindexter was forced to resign due to his role in the Iran-Contra scandal which made him unfit to run any form of sensitive intelligence program, and resigned as TIA chief in August 2003, right before the cancelation of the TIA program.
While Congress scrapped TIA, several projects survived and were allowed to continue at DARPA under the guise of using the software to gather foreign intelligence used by the Department of Defense, National Security Agency (NSA), CIA, and other federal agencies to track perceived foreign threats. Other portions of the TIA program were privatized,m with their names changed and moved to classified portfolios belonging to the Intelligence Community.
According to Shane Harris with National Journal, after questions arose over whether or not the program had continued, during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing held in February 2006, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) asked then-Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte and FBI Director Robert Mueller if it was “correct that when [TIA] was closed, that several … projects were moved to various intelligence agencies…. I and others on this panel led the effort to close [TIA]; we want to know if Mr. Poindexter’s programs are going on somewhere else.” Harris reported that both Mueller and Negroponte claimed they didn’t know, while the newly appointed director of the NSA and Negroponte’s deputy, Gen. Michael V. Hayden said he would answer in a closed session.
Development and Short Run of DARPA’s LifeLog
One of Poindexter’s close colleagues and then-program manager for DARPA, Douglas Gage built a program in December of 2002 that would “track a person’s entire existence,” and build a digital record of “everything an individual says, sees, or does.” Data collected from those willing to “self-report” by sharing the details of their life would include “mapping out relationships, memories, events, and experiences” all within the program. That program was LifeLog.
This information would be collected and entered into an electronic database from the user’s email and instant messages to telephone calls, credit cards, and web history.
Total Information Awareness (TIA) changed its name to Terrorist Information Awareness in May 2003, the same month the Pentagon announced a competition for proposals to launch LifeLog. To this day government officials insist LifeLog has no connection with the TIA program, but in a 2015 interview with VICE News, Gage told reporters, “I think that Facebook is the real face of pseudo-LifeLog at this point.”
According to LifeLog’s June 2003 Proposer Information Pamphlet, the long-term goal was to eventually end up with a haptic product where the user/wearer would collect data, and in a “synthesizing mode” allow for “synthetic game characters and humanoid robots to lead more ‘realistic’ lives.”:
“LifeLog is interested in three major data categories: physical data, transactional data, and context or media data. ‘Anywhere/anytime’ capture of physical data might be provided by hardware worn by the LifeLog user. Visual, aural, and possibly even haptic sensors capture what the user sees, hears, and feels. GPS, digital compass, and inertial sensors capture the user’s orientation and movements. Biomedical sensors capture the user’s physical state. LifeLog also captures the user’s computer-based interactions and transactions throughout the day from email, calendar, instant messaging, web-based transactions, as well as other common computer applications, and stores the data (or, in some cases, pointers to the data) in appropriate formats. Voice transactions can be captured through recording of telephone calls and voice mail, with the called and calling numbers as metadata. FAX and hardcopy written material (such as postal mail) can be scanned. Finally, LifeLog also captures (or at least captures pointers to) the tremendous amounts of context data the user is exposed to every day from diverse media sources, including broadcast television and radio, hardcopy newspapers, magazines, books and other documents, and softcopy electronic books, web sites, and database access.
LifeLog can be used as a stand-alone system to serve as a powerful automated multimedia diary and scrapbook. By using a search engine interface, the user can easily retrieve a specific thread of past transactions, or recall an experience from a few seconds ago or from many years earlier in as much detail as is desired, including imagery, audio, or video replay of the event. In addition to operating in this stand-alone mode, LifeLog can also serve as a subsystem to support a wide variety of other applications, including personal, medical, financial, and other types of assistants, and various teaching and training tools. As increasing numbers of people acquire LifeLogs, collaborative tasks could be facilitated by the interaction of LifeLogs, and properly anonymized access to LifeLog data might support medical research and the early detection of an emerging epidemic. Application of the LifeLog abstraction structure in a synthesizing mode will eventually allow synthetic game characters and humanoid robots to lead more ‘realistic’ lives. However, the initial LifeLog development is tightly focused on the stand-alone system capabilities, and does not include the broader class of assistive, training, and other applications that may ultimately be supported.“
The New York Times reported on LifeLog at the time describing the program as taking in “all of a subject's experience, from phone numbers dialed and e-mail messages viewed to every breath taken, step made and place gone.”
NYT said DARPA spokeswoman Jan Walker claimed that LifeLog had nothing to do with the agency’s highly criticized TIA, but rather the goal of the new program was “to create a searchable database of human lives, initially those of the developers, to promote artificial intelligence.”
“To do so, the office said, the system must index the details of daily life and make it possible 'to infer the user's routines, habits and relationships with other people, organizations, places and objects, and to exploit these patterns to ease its task.'‘'
LifeLog was canceled by the Pentagon on Feb 4, 2004, the same day that Facebook was officially launched, with Walker only saying the abrupt cancellation was due to a “change in priorities.”
WIRED reported that MIT’s David Karger wrote in an email, “I am sure that such research will continue to be funded under some other title. I can’t imagine Darpa ‘dropping out’ of such a key research area.”
Marne Levine, who previously worked at the Treasury Department as Chief of Staff for the National Economic Council became the first COO of Instagram, which has now merged with Facebook under Meta. Levine spent 13 years with the company where she held managerial roles before announcing her departure this past February. It is important to note she is married to Philip Deutch, who is the son of John Deutch, the director of the CIA during part of the Clinton administration.
Joel Kaplan, originally joined Facebook as VP of US Public Policy, succeeded Levine as VP of Global Public Policy at Facebook (2014), Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy under President George W. Bush from 2006-2009.
Max Kelly, Former Chief Security Officer of Facebook, who once worked for the FBI now works for the NSA. The New York Times wrote in 2013 of Kelly saying his move from the tech realm to government projects was, “To get their hands on the latest software technology to manipulate and take advantage of large volumes of data, United States intelligence agencies invest in Silicon Valley start-ups, award classified contracts and recruit technology experts like Mr. Kelly."
Regina Dugan, DARPA Director, 1996 Founded the elusive and mysterious Building 8 at Facebook, leaving the company 18 months later. According to Vox, “Before joining Facebook, she led Google’s Advanced Technology and Products team, which built things like modular smartphones and clothes outfitted with micro-sensors. Dugan also led the company’s “brain-computer interface project,” a new type of technology meant to translate a person’s thoughts directly from their brain and onto a computer screen." Dugan is also well known for her 2013 unveiling of the Motorola/M10 collaboration on the electronic authenticator tattoo at the D11 conference. This was to be one of many “wearable” technology prototypes the world would be introduced to in the coming years.
Sean Parker, First president of Facebook and Napster co-founder, the CIA recruited him at age 16 after he won the Virginia State Computer Science Fair. According to Forbes, “By high school Parker was hacking into companies and universities. At 15 his hacking caught the attention of the FBI, earning him community service.”
“When asked, the biggest technology and communications companies—from Verizon and AT&T to Google, Facebook, and Microsoft—say that they never deliberately and proactively offer up their vast databases on their customers to federal security and law enforcement agencies: They say that they only respond to subpoenas or requests that are filed properly under the terms of the Patriot Act,” writes opinion columnist Jeff Nesbit.
It’s difficult to not draw the conclusion that LifeLog quietly became Facebook, and was then sold to the general public as a type of social media/scrapbooking app to stay connected to friends, family, and businesses, while users voluntarily share their data, and never read the fine print that explains how the data would be stored and used by third parties. This is even easier to be convinced of when we look at some of the Government/Facebook crossovers.
Facebook/Meta’s Metaverse is simply the next step in merging reality with the virtual world. What will follow will be a fully immersive experience using wearables and eventually implants where individual users looking to escape from their present reality or circumstances can do just that, escape. The Metaverse is just the tip of the iceberg.