Scientia potentia est – Knowledge is power, especially when it comes to the internet. Recorded Future traces its activities to 2009 when it began its data collection on the internet, but to serve what purpose? Answer: what its clients desire. To illustrate the far-reaching applications of their data collection, you can perhaps dig deep into your memory; in 2015, it was precisely Recorded Future that noticed the explosive increase in praise to the nearly destroyed ISIS and the so-called Islamic State by Saudi Arabia. It captured international headlines and led to some questions about the ties of funding that were appearing at the time. They also address real issues that strive to save lives like, for example, working with the British government to try to anticipate, and thus prevent, attacks on embassies and other important government buildings. Their customers also include banks and oil companies to facilitate their activities that in many cases remain incognito. . .
The company, which is founded by the Swedish Christopher Ahlberg, is headquartered in Boston, USA, but also has a research section in Gothenburg. In 2015, the Gothenburg company raised SEK 104 million from, among others, the venture capital company Reed Elsevier Ventures, the search giant Google and In-Q-Tel – an investment business run by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). After this investment, questions were raised about their relationship – but they came clean a year later with full disclosure about what it was doing with Google (Google Ventures – GV) and In-Q-Tel. If you thought that their statements would play down the mystery about the company – I’m afraid it didn’t back then. It related to an area that we wrote an article about a couple of months ago and having to do with the shady, dark underworld that most people don’t know exist – The Dark Web.
Their answer was: “We help our customers keep track of any cyber threats, potential viruses or people who want to enter computer systems. We get into places where a simple web user cannot. With our programs we can, for example, get into different chat forums in different languages and we speak all the languages that involve bad news: Chinese, Farsi, Arabic, Russian, Spanish, French and English.”
They also disclosed how much they charge for their services – an annual charge of SEK 1 million and then depending on the service requested, the actual charge is vague. Since it involves some of the major players around the world, we can expect that it is much more. Why would a Swedish company be so interested in data collection and the shady cyberworld? According to Ahlberg, this interest of projecting large numbers of data goes a long way back to his time at university. When he was a student at Chalmers he even wrote a thesis on the subject, which led him to start the data analysis company Spotfire in 1996. It also became a successful company that was sold to the US software company Tibco in 2007 for $195 million.
Fast-forwarding to 2017 and Recorded Futures was not only expanding its reach from some of the largest clients, it was doubling from 60-70 clients to 175. Its label of being one of the coolest tech companies in Sweden, however, was not fitting – not because it wasn’t successful and doing cool things like “listening to the Dark Web”, but because it hardly had much activity in Sweden at all. Most of it was in the United States and elsewhere and only 2 clients were from their native country.
2019, this week in fact, it made a serious move. Last Thursday, it was clear that the former minority owner, the American venture capital company Insight Partners, paid a total of SEK 7.4 billion to become a majority shareholder and it did so just as Recorded Futures turned 10 years old. What about its aspirations after this sale? “We want to build the best possible information to protect companies against threats. Right now, we are building models to predict what will happen based on historical data, where we have aggregated information and analyzed what people do online.” Staffan Truvé, research chief said to NyTeknik.
Recorded Futures works for its clients – that is true. However, in a time of universal deceit, if they are transparent about its associations and continue to publish data and collection to protect lives – we should be thankful that they exist, especially when they dwell in the dark world that many of us will never see. Whether the associations with the CIA and Google are a cause for concern – that is a difficult question to answer. The level of secrecy can be expected as drawing attention to oneself in this area would be detrimental to their activities, not to mention their clients. One thing is certain – Recorded Futures does live up to the title of being one of Sweden’s most interesting companies and we shall look forward to what they uncover in the future as criminality enters another stage in world of cyber.
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