back to article Will GCHQ furtle this El Reg readers' poll? Team Snowden suggests: Yes

UK eavesdropping nerve center GCHQ has developed tools to manipulate online polls, ramp up page views for articles, and obtain private photos on Facebook. That's according to Glenn Greenwald's latest trawling of documents leaked by Edward Snowden. The surveillance agency can also, we're told, arrange calls between two selected …

  1. Will Godfrey Silver badge

    I feel such a failure

    I couldn't answer any of the questions. There must be something wrong with me. Maybe some kind politician can fill it out for me. I've heard that Home Secretary lady is very good with words. Should I ask her?

    1. Khaptain Silver badge

      Re: I feel such a failure

      There is no need to answer anyway as the results were determined well in advance of the questions.

      What a lovely government, they do all of the work for you..

      1. Mpeler
        Big Brother

        Re: I feel such a failure

        All Your Base Are Belong To US

  2. h4rm0ny

    You can't have democracy...

    ...without information. When government distorts public perception through trickery, that's an attack on the public.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: You can't have democracy...

      You are being naive

      Governments have been doing this since that day 60k years ago when the weaker, less hairy, but more devious progenitor took over the territories controlled by the neandertals. PR is one of the 3 oldest professions (though in those days it was usually a part time profession of the priests).

      As far as the current government, all you need to know about it, is its choice of PR advisor after coming to power:

      1. DropBear

        Re: You can't have democracy...

        That, as true or false as it may be, in no way invalidates the original comment. It just makes the outlook on our chances to ever have a properly functioning democracy bleaker...

      2. John Smith 19 Gold badge

        Re: You can't have democracy...

        "As far as the current government, all you need to know about it, is its choice of PR advisor after coming to power:"

        But cynicism is the easiest political position to hold.

        Change is much harder.

    2. tom dial Silver badge

      Re: You can't have democracy...

      Actuially, it would make little or no difference, for at least two reasons.

      First, the accuracy of any poll in which respondents select themselves is quite low to begin with, and any intervention by the various agencies is very unlikely to affect meaningful opinion measurements, as such polls usually do not produce any.

      Second, polls - well-done or not - mostly reflect opinion. Evidence that the announced results drive opinion is somewhere between nonexistent and weak. There probably is a small effect at the margins, but not enough to matter much.

      The most productive use for poll-fiddling might be to bend them toward results that show (a) a need for more agency funding and (b) that most of the people are not all that uncomfortable with agency activities. My guess, notwithstanding all the furor, is that (b) is not far from the truth anyhow.

  3. VinceH

    Judging by the results, I clearly answered the questions correctly, and GCHQ will know this, so no black helicopters will be heading my way tonight.

    1. Andrew Jones 2


      they think you answered the questions in the way someone who didn't have anything to hide would answer them - so they didn't suspect you had anything to hide....

      Oh bugger - now that I have posted this - they will know I have figured out their evil plan......

      1. Evil Auditor

        Re evil plan

        There is no evil plan. It's all for the Greater Good.

        1. Anonymous Dutch Coward

          Re: Re evil plan

          It's a good plan, no a Good Plan. Good, I tell you!

    2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge
      Black Helicopters

      Another worrying thought?

      Do they have a working internet sarcasm detector?

      If so, we're all buggered. And it wouldn't be the first time that GCHQ had technology vital to the health of the internet, and kept it secret.

      1. Evil Auditor

        Re: Another worrying thought?

        Sarcasm? Where did you see sarcasm?

        Anyway, from my experience in dealing with some gov't "officials" they neither understand sarcasm nor irony. But do you believe they could've built a machine to help them with such?

  4. Graham Marsden

    It's a good thing...

    ... none of this could be harmful to anyone's personal freedoms and civil liberties, isn't it?

    1. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: It's a good thing...

      Don't worry, you don't actually have any personal freedoms, or civil liberties, or at least none that can't be taken away from you at the drop of the word 'terrorist' anyway. And what you don't have, can't be harmed eh?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: It's a good thing...

        And if "terrorist" fails there is always the trusty fall back of "paedophile"

  5. Chris G Silver badge

    Alles klar

    The results have/are being furtled as the poll is running, clearly no-one in their right mind or the apparent majority in this case would have answered with the last answer in each category as they are clearly too supportive of GCHQ!

    Vote for a Furtle Free Britain Now!

  6. Your alien overlord - fear me

    Hang on, when James Bond 'bends' the rules, we're all happy but when GCHQ possibly, maybe, does all of a sudden it's bad?

    Just saying....and hoping my GCHQ quarterly job appraisal is good :)

    1. nematoad Silver badge

      The real world versus fiction

      A humorous article with a joke poll but with a very serious point.

      You are the enemy as far as the security services are concerned, we all are. It's just the way that the people drawn to this sort of organisation think.

      Unfortunately James Bond is a fictional character so what he does does not matter. What GCHQ does, does matter and it matters a lot. They are for real and the peculiar mind-set means that whatever they can think up to subvert the security of your most personal and private conversations and other things you might want to keep private is acceptable. At least it is to them and their masters in Whitehall.

      Sadly the vast majority of users of the internet have no interest in what is being done with their personal data, how else would the likes of Google and Facebook flourish otherwise? For those who do care, take all the steps you can to protect yourself. It may not be much but we must try and hang on to any vestiges of privacy that we have left.

      1. Otto is a bear.

        Re: The real world versus fiction

        Well, yes, but then we do love the fictional idea of our security services being all powerful and protecting us from all the bad guys. It's just the difference between reality and fiction we don't seem to cope with, in reality we seem to be much more comfortable with all powerful bad guys who can do what they like without the fear of being caught, just so long as the security services can't look at me. Just remember if the security services can do it, so can the bad guys, and just because you saw it on Spooks, doesn't mean it's real, ditto CSI, NCIS and other TV series.

        1. Eddy Ito

          Re: The real world versus fiction

          FYI, "our security services being all powerful" and "all powerful bad guys" is a distinction without a difference given that power corrupts and all that.

    2. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

      Actually, I haven't been comfortable with the plotlines where Bond breaks the law for several years now. I am always annoyed that there isn't a scene at the end of those stories where he is disciplined and/or handed over to the police, with a lecture that being right doesn't justify illegality for an officer of the Crown.

      [I know this sounds a sarcastic, but it isn't - I mean what I say.]

  7. Peter2 Silver badge

    Have you seen the names of some of these capabilities?

    Code names are in British parlance supposed to be randomly generated and unrelated to the subject matter to make guessing the content of an operation/program from the title totally impossible, unlike the American practice of coming up with a descriptive name it so that if you discover (or overhear) the name of a program you can make a reasonably accurate guess as to it's purpose.

    Some of those programs (eg forging SMTP headers under program CHANGLING) seem a little Americanised which makes one wonder where they came from originally. On the other hand, dealing with users frequently I wouldn't want to overlook the simplest explanation that GHCQ can't get staff to follow simple (and very well known) naming guidelines that have been around since WW2.

    Which doesn't fill one with the greatest of confidence when we are told those people are supervised against unauthorised activity.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      You stick with yanks too long you start behaving like one

      "Kewl" acronyms are contagious. Even the Germans and israeli are infected nowdays.

    2. phuzz Silver badge

      "Your suggestions of PEEPING TOM and SMUT BARON as codenames for your project were rejected as they were deemed too descriptive. May we suggest FURTIVE OWL and EAGLE STARE as replacements?"

      I'm sure my fellow commentards can come up with some other replacements...

  8. Don Jefe

    Financial Damage

    'Part of our mission is to protect against those who would do us financial damage. To accomplish that we are going to need £18,000,000,000 in our budget this year to protect us from $100,000,000 in potential damage'.

    1. as2003

      Re: Financial Damage

      So what happens when details of their activities escape and the world at large then loses faith in the products and services their country provides, and stops buying.

      Do they then have to spy on themselves?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Financial Damage

        That'd be cheaper. Job done.

  9. btrower

    Controlled by who?

    Re: "Communications cannot be viewed or examined by an analyst other than in strictly controlled circumstances."

    Controlled by who?

    We are so used to senseless BS from these people it all just fades into noise.

    We need to stop negotiating the terms of our servitude and demand liberty. These guys sure do not represent me. As far as I am concerned, the perpetrators of all this nonsense belong in prison.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Controlled by who? - "strictly controlled circumstances"

      While being tied up and caned by a dominatrix, of course. It comes of having been to the right public schools.

      1. Sir Runcible Spoon

        Re: Controlled by who? - "strictly controlled circumstances"

        I would also like a definition of 'Communications' as used in this context as well.

        It all smacks of white lies.

  10. Cipher
    Big Brother

    Tell us what you dreamed...

    Its OK, we told you what to dream... Welcome my son, welcome to the Machine...

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Lord, Protect us from the Elite...

    And their friends with their private agendas...

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    There's no way to win...

    And the only way to avoid losing is to unplug....

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Didn't think it was possible to distrust anyone more than Banksters,,,,

    How wrong I was...

    "UK eavesdropping nerve center GCHQ has developed tools to manipulate online polls, ramp up page views for articles, and obtain private photos on Facebook. That's according to Glenn Greenwald's latest trawling of documents leaked by Edward Snowden. The surveillance agency can also, we're told, arrange calls between two selected phones, sorta like a Chatroulette for spies, and find web videos deemed to be extremist so they can be taken down. User accounts on computers can be nuked at will, and comments favored by the Establishment can be made more prominent on pages....".

  14. Strange Fruit

    Poll? What poll?

    Ah there it is. Made the mistake of reading this one on an iPad.

    In other weirdity I read chatroulette in a french accent and thought it was some reworking of Scrodinger

    1. heyrick Silver badge

      Re: Poll? What poll?

      "Ah there it is. Made the mistake of reading this one on an iPad."

      ??? So am I. The poll was right there where it was expected. And with Safari.

      1. Strange Fruit

        Re: Poll? What poll?

        Oops. Correction. 'Reading this one with cookies blocked'

        1. Anonymous Dutch Coward
          Big Brother

          Re: Poll? What poll?

          Blocking cookies? Terrorist! What do you have to hide?

    2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge


      Which garden shall I deposit my shit in today? Place you bets.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This is like the bankers all over again. One law for them, one law for us..

    Life must be good when you're an Elite...

    1. Zimmer

      ..Elite? Oolite, more like..

      Only dangerous at the moment.. (638, Galaxy 2..)

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: This is like the bankers all over again. One law for them, one law for us..

      "Life must be good when you're an Elite..."

      I believe Marie Antoinette said something very similar.

  16. Mark 85 Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    Answered all the questions

    So since I'm in the US, I have nothing to fear from them... hang on... I hear a helicopter....Nothing to worry about is an NSA bir....

  17. Denarius Silver badge

    now it makes sense

    some of the comments on polls and articles around what passes for mass media defy reason and common skepticism. Some of the phone polls I had inflicted on my shell pink lughole when I had a landline were like this ElReg effort. One could only choose a "correct" response, anything else was categorised as undecided.

    1. Robert Helpmann??

      Re: now it makes sense

      ...anything else was categorised as undecided

      I suppose that's as good a way as any to record a response of "@#$% off!" followed immediately by an abrupt termination of connection.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Manipulating 'most popular'

    "As would ramping up page views on articles..."

    Pushing irrelevant stories (or waiting till something diverting appears before you realse bad news) to divert interest from your own misdeeds is as old as the hills. For the last 18 months or so, the BBCs "most popular stories" sidebar has been very wobbly, dredging up stories from the depths of the past, often funny or interesting, which then push other contemporary stories out of the list for a few days. I've often wondered if it was mischief (a bunch of Turks famously manipulated a "greatest figure of the 20th century" poll in favour of Attaturk) or perhaps malice, but always assumed it would be something pushed by commercial interests to get rid of bad news from the front pages - Trafigura springs to mind.

    Now I have to wonder who exactly is pressing the buttons, and how they're doing it. At one level it looks trivial enough, at another its little different to selling your soul to Rupe to get the story about the Tory Minister, the sheep and the honey. Polling, either public or private, very often drives the news agenda, and the commentary generated by a controversial one can occupy the prime spots for days, dominating the public discourse. Pushing stories out of sight is even easier, and the most insidious thing about either method is that it becomes self perpetuating once it gets rolling.

    People are easily enough influenced, as recognised by tyrants throughout history, and though a single case may look trivial in isolation, in total its a subversion of democracy and freedom of thought by denying access to a full spread of the information available. How anyone can see it as a misdemeanour that can be dealt with by 'transparency' is beyond me. It is functionally no better that what was practiced by any number of supposed 'regimes' routinely condemned by our greedy self serving political class.

    If there's one thing I object to above all, its being told (or being nudged into) what to think; 'more relevant advertising', '...just hard working families...', 'lack of patriotism', 'keeping the public safe', and '75% of people believe' are fundamentally equally wrong if the intent is to manipulate. It makes a mockery of the idea of a free society, and its high time those of us who value freedom of thought start making a good deal more noise, and stop taking 'no' for an answer.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Manipulating 'most popular'

      Facebook's "trending" is as bad. When the Costa Concordia was righted all the new stories kept mentioning that it was actually bigger than the Titanic. So Facebook decided that the Titanic was a trending story.

      Companies buy likes and pay for positive comments for their stuff and some pay for negative comments on rival products.

      Going from that sort of stuff GCHQ "manipulating" stuff like that isn't exactly unexpected.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Manipulating 'most popular'

      Now I have to wonder who exactly is pressing the buttons, and how they're doing it.

      WHO EXACTLY IS PRESSING THE BUTTONS (here's some of the uk agencies involved as a matter of public/parliamentary record)

      GCHQ wikipedia

      HMGCC wikipedia

      UKNTAC less famous


      21/02/2011 10:25 FBO.GOV [US Government solicitations & tendering process] Persona Management Software. Solicitation Number: RTB220610 Agency: Department of the Air Force Office: Air Mobility Command Location: 6th Contracting Squadron

      6 tenders from


      2) Uk Plus Logistics Services Ltd Kabul Afghanistan

      3) NevinTelecom, CA 96391




      Synopsis: Added: Jun 22, 2010 1:42 pm Modified: Jun 22, 2010 2:07 pm 0001- Online Persona Management Service. 50 User [Workstation] Licenses, 10 Personas per user [Workstation]. Software will allow 10 personas per user [Workstation], replete with background , history, supporting details, and cyber presences that are technically, culturally and geographacilly consistent. Individual applications will enable an operator to exercise a number of different online persons from the same workstation and without fear of being discovered by sophisticated adversaries. Personas must be able to appear to originate in nearly any part of the world and can interact through conventional online services and social media platforms. The service includes a user friendly application environment to maximize the user's situational awareness by displaying real-time local information.

      [ten plausible identities per workstation, many thousand workstations]

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Manipulating 'most popular'

        "ten plausible identities per workstation..."

        Note to self: must disable "swivel-eyed right wing apologist" option on Matt Bryant persona.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    Why werent the correct answer boxes "pre ticked for my convenience"??

    Hmm, whats that noise.......

    IT'S A HELICOPTER,,,,,,,,, but it is ok, the chopper is orange in colour.

    HOLD ON!! ISN'T ORANGE THE NEW BL.............

  20. Anonymous Blowhard

    I'm thinking of signing up for the premium service

    For only five pounds a month I can unlock extra features on all their free Apps; no more wondering if they've synced my new data, I'll get a text message to confirm!

  21. M7S

    Manipulating online polls.....

    And some political parties want us to be able to vote in general elections by SMS.

    Of course I'm only concerned that the capability might be found in/escape to the wild sometime and be used by someone nefarious....

  22. Robin Bradshaw

    the /b/tards have a better arsenal

    Hmm i looked at their list and wasnt overly impressed:

    CONCRETE DONKEY -> robodialer, presumably rented out in spare time to PPI and solar panel companys

    BUMPERCAR -> clicking on the report this video button


    BADGER -> spam

    BOMB BAY -> link farming

    BURLESQUE -> SMS spam

    GAMBIT -> Wifi pineapple

    GLITTERBALL -> excuse to play sadville in work time

    IMPERIAL BARGE -> standard level of service from BT

    PITBULL -> IM spam

    GATEWAY -> too small a botnet to actually DDOS

    SERPENTS TONGUE -> who the fuck uses fax anymore, do they also have attacks on telex??

    SKYSCRAPER -> uploading videos to youtube

    SWAMP DONKEY -> repackaged cryptolocker virus

    OUTWARD -> GNU inetutils, nmap dig etc

    SLAMMER -> probably an internal wiki give how unimpressive the rest is

    HAVOK -> ettercap


  23. Tony Paulazzo

    You asked me once, what was in Room 101. I told you that you knew the answer already. Everyone knows it. The thing that is in Room 101 is the worst thing in the world.

    'Some Book'

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "The thing that is in Room 101"

      A TV set showing repeats of Eastenders, Big Brother and anything with a Dimbleby in it. Forever.

  24. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge
    Big Brother

    I upvoted

    all of GCHQ's work because the mind control chip they implanted in my head told me to

    Note to self : find a better quality of tinfoil than tesco's bargin brand

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I upvoted

      Alcan extra wide is a big improvement, although I still find Theresa May attractive occasionally.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    There was me thinking I had my own El Reg stalker - one downvote on rather a lot of posts - and it turns out it was just a GCHQ bot all the time.

    Still, things have improved. When a close relative was being positively vetted, I had a girlfriend from a naughty country. My phone was tapped for several weeks, and the signal degradation was really annoying. At least nowadays you don't notice when they are bugging you.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Does it say I've already voted?

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    UK is becoming embarrassing

    Two weeks ago they blast out for a umph period about 12 billion in the next 10 years on silicon round about...

    Then they report actually there is issues with bandwith/broadband in the silicon round about :

    + skills shortage..

    Hmm skills shortage - due to education standards at all ?

    12 billion and yet no internet hahaha

    Like having a ferrari but no driving license

    hey ho all the money in the world to spend on third party gizmos kits to spy on the civilians

    1. Teiwaz

      Re: UK is becoming embarrassing

      That Big Marketing Hype thing in London?

      Oh well then, the lack of decent Internet connectivity is merely an oversight caused by stupidity.

      The fashionable set probably thought setting up trendy offices with a nice cafe culture would be enough to bring in business.

      The Techy Businesses would bring the internet with them, wouldn't they?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: UK is becoming embarrassing

        Surely in their world there's no need to worry about internets, there's always free wifi in the café.

  28. Jason Bloomberg
    Big Brother

    Let's see...

    Question: Would you ever partake in an uprising, insurrection, insurgency or terrorist activity?

    Downvote: No, not under any circumstances.

    Upvote: Yes, if I believed it was necessary to do so.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Let's see...

      ...but I would say that, wouldn't I?

  29. Teiwaz

    GCHQ Martketing...

    "UK eavesdropping nerve center GCHQ has developed tools to manipulate online polls, ramp up page views for articles,"

    So are they planning on offering their Services as a Marketing Firm.?

    With tools like that, they should. Might actually make an addition to the UK Government Income...

    "GCHQ-M Helped us generate a positive public image for our latest product."

    - Microsoft

    "GCHQ-M Services helped us overcome negative press over our proposed urban meat processing plant, sewage farm and dyers works."

    - A.n.y weird Conglomerate

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