The Feds are data mining World of Warcraft -- surely, you can't be serious?

The blogosphere is abuzz with recent revelation that the United States Federal Government is spending our tax dollars to develop software that will detect violent extremists infiltrating World of Warcraft and other massive multiplayer games. That's right, that undead priest that just healed you could be a Fed.

A blog on Wired by Ryan Singel broke the story on February 22, 2008, (U.S. Spies Want to Find Terrorists in World of Warcraft) and it has been repeated around the blogosphere ever since. I first saw it on TechRepublic's sister Web site, Gamespot. It is called the Reynard Project.

Now, heaven knows, the U.S. Federal Government is no slouch when it comes to wasting tax dollars, but when I first saw this I took it to be a hoax. But it is not a hoax -- although the government should quickly claim it is to save face.

Here is the pertinent excerpt from the data-mining report from the Director of National Intelligence:

  • The cultural and behavioral norms of virtual worlds and gaming are generally unstudied. Therefore, Reynard will seek to identify the emerging social, behavioral and cultural norms in virtual worlds and gaming environments. The project would then apply the lessons learned to determine the feasibility of automatically detecting suspicious behavior and actions in the virtual world.
  • If it shows early promise, this small seedling effort may increase its scope to a full project.

Now, come on -- this can't be real can it?