How do you feel about the Federal Reserve? I mean, how do you really feel?

Apparently, the Federal Reserve wants to find out, according to a recent Request for Proposal.

Definition of Terms

First, what is it we're talking about here? The Federal Reserve Bank of New York (referred to as FRBNY in the documents), by its own definition, "works within the Federal Reserve System and with other public and private sector institutions to foster the safety, soundness and vitality of our economic and financial systems." (In other words, according to some, they're to blame for the mess we're in. But I digress.)

And "sentiment analysis"? Essentially, it refers to technology that aims to determine the mood of written text. This means that anyone looking to gain insight into customer opinions expressed on blogs, social networks and other platforms can do so, without having to sit there and actually read them.

So what this RFP purports to ask for (and it closed September 26; if you were planning to apply, you're out of luck) is:

to be timely and proactively aware of the reactions and opinions expressed by the general public as it relates to the Federal Reserve and its actions on a variety of subjects"

from sources such as Facebook, Twitter, blogs, Youtube, forums, Associated Press content, Google News aggregated content, subscription-based news sources and other news sources such as CNN and the Wall Street Journal.

Supplier presentations are this week, with a vendor to be chosen the week of November 7 (Election Day, how appropriate), and the service scheduled to begin the week of December 12.

I can see the flash mob now. "Okay, at 12:05, everyone Tweet simultaneously, FRBNY Sucks!!!!"


Reactions to the proposal are mixed (other than derision, of course). The story was originally broken by the blog ZeroHedge, which made its opinions pretty clear:

[T]he Fed has just entered the counterespionage era and will be monitoring everything written about it anywhere in the world. After all, why ask others to snitch for you and anger everyone as Obama found out the hard way, when you can pay others to create the supreme FIATtack WatchTM using money you yourself can print in unlimited amounts. And once the Internet is completely "transparent", the Fed will next focus on telephone conversations, and finally will simply bug each and every otherwise "private" location in the world. Because very soon saying that "printing money is treason" will be treason, and such terrorist thoughts must be pre-crimed before they even occur."

In a slightly less spittle-flecked response, Fast Company noted that, like it or not, the practice was widespread.

High-level web and social media analytics are a staggering growth industry; private companies such as Google, Apple, and Procter & Gamble have monitoring schemes that would make any government agency green with jealousy. Fast Company recently reported on predictive analysis companies -- who offer their high-level clients the ability to predict what customers want to see on company homepages -- and on creepy/cool real-time analysis of customers' habits at firms like eBay and Adobe. The Fed's decision to monitor social media sentiment is, however you want to look at it, a natural extension of what's happening in the private sector."

Search Engine Watch even sounded approving of the idea.

There's plenty of logic in governments using the social tools at hand; anti-government and illegal activities, such as the UK riots in August, the Anonymous DDoS attacks, and revolutionary actions in Egypt all took great advantage of social media. If any government wants to be able to counter such actions, having access to the social tools and the information coming from them makes sense."

One of the more disturbing aspects of the RFP is the question, "Does the Proposed Solution have the ability to identify discussions that are unrelated to FRBNY, such as anything related to Federal, FBI, etc?" Uh, what's that about?

We'll all get to find out in December, apparently.