Cyber Profiling in Criminal Investigation

Cyber Profiling in Criminal Investigation

Szde Yu
Copyright: © 2021 |Pages: 11
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-3479-3.ch024
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The line between street crimes and cybercrimes has been increasingly blurry, given the prevalence of internet access. In all kinds of criminal investigations, digital information has become relevant and even crucial in most cases. Investigators are gradually relying on information retrieved from electronic platforms to find leads and evidence. When comprehensive information is not always attainable, the use of cyber profiling may provide further insight into crucial questions regarding identity, time, and location. Cyber profiling is essentially an analysis on the digital footprints associated with a person whose identity may or may not have been known. The purpose is to reveal information that is not readily visible in the digital footprints, such as personality, motives, and counter-forensic efforts. This chapter introduces what cyber profiling is and how it can help with criminal investigation.
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To date, there is very little research effort in developing or validating cyber profiling. Therefore, it could be easy to dismiss cyber profiling. Yet, cyber profiling actually has been widely applied in many fields, albeit the name might not be recognized. In other words, many people are already experiencing cyber profiling without knowing it. For instance, some experts tend to make diagnosis about a public figure’s personality or state of mind based on comments made on Twitter or other social media. This is basically a form of cyber profiling as the inference is based on digital footprints in the absence of any physical contact. When people do online shopping on certain products and consequently receive promotional advertisements about similar products, it is another example of cyber profiling because the online vendors are profiling shoppers based on their past shopping habits so as to decide what other products they would be interested in as well. Online dating services like Tinder also allows users to do cyber profiling based on only a few photos before they decide which stranger they want to go out on a date with. If cyber profiling can be relied on in the business world and social media, there is no reason why it cannot be utilized in criminal investigations.

Currently, criminal investigators are already used to looking for clues in a subject’s digital footprints, such as text messages, emails, social media postings, and online shopping or browsing records (Rogers, 2003). However, cyber profiling calls for more attention to the implicit information hidden in the digital footprints. For instance, a man might intentionally avoid expressing his political view on the Internet, but from an analysis on the videos he watched on YouTube and the news websites he frequently visited we can still deduce what this man’s political stance is, provided access to such digital footprints is not an issue. The same analysis might shed light on other aspects as well. A study was conducted on Facebook to test the reliability of cyber profiling (Yu, 2013), and it found that using nothing but the participant’s Facebook public information, it is possible for a trained profiler to draw largely accurate conclusions about the participant’s race, age, gender, and nationality. Moreover, profilers may correctly infer a person’s certain personality traits, such as self-control based solely on digital footprints. Lambiotte and Kosinski (2014) also reported the ability to predict personality based on publicly available digital footprints, and they believed such prediction will become more and more accurate as more electronic data are being generated on a daily basis. This type of prediction, aka cyber profiling, can apply to criminal investigation and become a huge help.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Computer Forensics: Searching and analyzing digital evidence that can be used to prove criminality.

Cyber Profiling: An idiographic analysis on a subject’s digital footprints so as to reveal information that can help identity or better understand the subject.

Digital Footprints: The information about a person that exists on various electronic platforms as a result of this person’s online behavior or online activity on those platforms.

False Negative: Wrongfully deem digital footprints as irrelevant and therefore exclude them from analysis.

Victimology: The study of the victim’s role in a crime based on the assumption that the victim’s characteristics or actions may have indirectly facilitated or directly resulted in victimization.

False Positive: Wrongfully attribute digital footprints to a person when this person did not contribute to such digital footprints.

Cyber Context: The online settings and interactions in which online behavior occurs.

Online Behavior: A person’s online activity that results in digital footprints.

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