Cool Socnet Visualization from MIT’s Immersion Project

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A previous post considered some practical implications for privacy and government surveillance stemming from the Snowden revelations about the Prism program. The point was made that some people who think they have nothing to hide could easily become ensnared in webs not of their own making, and could find it difficult to untangle themselves.

Interest in metadata patterns in social networks is not limited to the NSA. Prism is one of a number academic, Homeland Security and Department of Defense programs that have studied how to make sense of social communication patterns to identify and track suspects. One of these is MIT’s Immersion project.

Following a tip from Slashdot,  the Immersion project was given the keys to the author’s hyperactive Gmail account (~ inbox = 169,000, 120 filters, 250 labels).  Immersion analyzes a Gmail account without directly accessing one’s Gmail password.

The attached images were produced by Immersion after analyzing 277,843 emails.  As the MIT project team explains,

Once you log in, Immersion will use only the From, To, Cc and Timestamp fields of the emails in the account you are signing in with. It will not access the subject or the body content of any of your emails.

The point? As Slashdot’s “Judgecorp” points out, Immersion gives even a casual observer a sense for what the NSA Prism initiative could do with metadata.

Immersion can also objectively respond to your Mother’s “Why don’t you ever write?” complaint. When used to analyze a single contact, Immersion produces a graph of interactions by year. Also depicted in the screenshots is a plot of the interactions by year.

Yes, writing my sister more often would be a good idea.

As often highlighted at, things in information technology can sometimes go wrong. Spam, misaddressed email, malware or sheer coincidence could put your name on the receiving end of an arrow in an Immersion diagram.

First posted at Port Wash Patch



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