Virtual robots could soon be patrolling the Internet to track down the source of spurious rumours or pornographic photographs. A Swiss computer company, Agence Virtuelle, has developed software to scour the web for the origins of particular stories.
The so-called "Rumorbot" trawls through search engines and databases and could be used to identify a speculator starting a rumour to move share prices or a paedophile supplying child pornography.
"The idea is to track and analyse, in real time, online newsgroups, chatrooms and lists," said Stephane Perino, founder and managing director of the Geneva-based company.
Rumorbot could also help companies trying to find out who is issuing bogus press releases under its name. Some companies have already fallen prey to this practice. Last August, United States networking company, Emulex, saw its share price drop 60 per cent following the issue of a bogus press release.
Rumorbot uses 44 software agents to track the source of a rumour by analysing when information was posted and where it came from.
The internet is believed to be growing by about eight million pages a day so tracking the source of any piece of information is getting more difficult all the time. Agence Virtuelle is one of several companies trying to help people search the web for sources more effectively.
Computer experts say Rumorbot's effectiveness could be limited by anonymous e-mail services, which hide identities, or web pages which do not let automated programmes search through the information they contain.
swissinfo with agencies