Conferences: A Juicy Source of Intelligence?

June 9, 2020

Conferences are interesting. These face-to-face experiences are becoming virtual. After decades of operating off the radar for most attendees, the content of conferences is “suddenly” getting some love.

Decades ago, I worked at a company which produced a database called CPI or Conference Papers Index. That database was sold to another firm, and I am not sure if the original product persists 39 years later. Only a handful of customers accessed this product compared to our flagship databases ABI/INFORM and Business Dateline.

Potential Organized Fraud in ACM/IEEE Computer Architecture Conferences” caused me to think about who (the people) and the companies (the outfits hiring the people) used CPI. Almost 40 years ago, the who and the companies were either government agencies from countries which now provide high technology to the US and other nation states and companies either based in the US with non-US owners or outfits with names difficult to connect to a particular discipline. Did I care 40 years ago? Nope. We wanted to sell that database for several reasons:

  1. Conference organizers were among the most disorganized and distracted outfits we tapped for information; for example, copies of talks, abstracts, and names and affiliations of speakers. Much effort and many “let’s have lunch” and “yes, we will send that information tomorrow.” Sorry, lesson learned. Conferences 40 years ago were a different content animal. Fiefdoms, ego centric owners who wanted “total control”, trade associations eager to serve their members and preserve their mostly concierge type jobs, and similar flora and fauna. Much remains unchanged even as conferences undergo Rona-ization.
  2. Customers were not plentiful. The customers the CPI attracted wanted more: More images, more full text, more presentation foils. Delivering more cost money and it was not clear that if we invested the money to get “more” information that it would be a profitable operation. My hunch is that indexes of conferences, including the wonky listings one can find on the Internet, are essentially useless. Why? Sponsors are not indexed consistently. Names of speakers are not included as searchable content. The presentations, if one is lucky, becomes a YouTube video, usually delivered with both lousy audio and video. Sigh. Conferences are today a black hole of content. Going into the virtual conference business just makes the black hole deeper and weirder than before Rona.
  3. Conference organization is a remarkable exercise in rejecting, begging, and scrambling. Each conference wants stars for the keynotes. Each conference wants new talent to deliver hot information. Each conference desperately needs sponsors; that is, people to pay for snacks (yuck), liquor (much loved by attendees except for virtual presentations unless a company FedExes bottles to an attendee-with-a-budget’s home), and lunch (now a weird buffet brown bag thing which hopefully will disappear from real and virtual events completely). The organizer wants to put on a stellar show but lacks the expertise, money, and organizational talent to pull off most events.

What’s the fix?

If the information in the write up is accurate, it seems — note the hedge word “seems” — that individuals, companies, and countries are doing everything in their power to get their hands on the same information that people told us to include in our Conference Papers Index.

Valuable data include:

  • Abstracts of proposed talks, some submitted a year before an event in certain event cycles
  • The actual draft presentations: Text, PDFs of the visuals, author’s biography, and author details
  • Names of speakers, addresses, email, etc.

The blog post suggests that some fancy dancing has been underway in the rarified world of big tech at the ACM and IEEE computer architecture conferences.

The article is worth reading.

However, there is context for what amounts to intelligence exploitation.

The question is, “Will most conference organizers care?” Another question, “Will most conference organizers be sufficiently adept at addressing the alleged problem?”

DarkCyber has a tentative answer, “Nope. The sucking of conference data is an institutionalized behavior for many “experts,” their employers, some government entities, and even employees of conference companies.

Net net: Squeeze the fruit for informational juice.

Stephen E Arnold, June 9, 2020


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