As if posting a stream of status updates to hundreds of strangers on Twitter doesn’t have enough “big brother” potential … Visible Technologies, the WPP-backed social media monitoring firm, has picked up an undisclosed amount of funding from In-Q-Tel, the strategic investment arm of the U.S. government.
In-Q-Tel serves the C.I.A. and other government intelligence agencies, by taking stakes in firms specializing in biotechnology, software development and communications, among others. Related investments include In-Q-Tel’s funding of business analytics firm Spotfire (now a division of Tibco), and virtual world tech firm Forterra Systems.
The new money comes just a few months after Visible Technologies raised $6 million in funding from its existing investors; the company says it has raised a total of $23.5 million from all parties — including In-Q-Tel — to date.
Given that social networks, particularly Twitter, have quickly evolved into conduits for breaking news about civil unrest, terrorist attacks and other major events, it’s a no-brainer to think that the C.I.A. would want to invest in an existing listening platform, or perhaps license the technology to create one of its own. So In-Q-Tel’s choice to invest in Visible Technologies, over competitors like BuzzLogic or Overtone, could be a nod to the company’s superior technology. (That, or the government made Visible Technologies an offer it couldn’t refuse).
The investment does raise two big questions, however. Namely, whether Visible Technologies’ existing clients will be perturbed by the fact that they are now sharing their social media monitoring service with the C.I.A. But also, how the government will reconcile the fact that it’s trying to regulate consumer privacy and ad-tracking on the web on one hand — and yet funding a company that’s explicitly tracking people’s online conversations, blog posts and tweets, at the same time. Release.