You are the last piece in the puzzle

The Economist has an excellent article that discusses the increasingly diverse ways in which information from your social network – drawn from services like Facebook, or from telephone calls or payment patterns – are being used to obtain personal information about you.

This is not information which you have explicitly stated or included, but which can be found out or ‘mined’ from your patterns of behaviour and your connections to other people.

The piece looks at ways in which software, specifically designed for the task, is being increasingly deployed by companies and security agencies to profile their targets.

Telecoms operators naturally prize mobile-phone subscribers who spend a lot, but some thriftier customers, it turns out, are actually more valuable. Known as “influencers”, these subscribers frequently persuade their friends, family and colleagues to follow them when they switch to a rival operator. The trick, then, is to identify such trendsetting subscribers and keep them on board with special discounts and promotions. People at the top of the office or social pecking order often receive quick callbacks, do not worry about calling other people late at night and tend to get more calls at times when social events are most often organised, such as Friday afternoons. Influential customers also reveal their clout by making long calls, while the calls they receive are generally short.

The piece goes on to explain how such analyses have been used in everything from targeting advertising to tracking down Saddam Hussein.

Link to ‘Untangling the social web’.

3 thoughts on “You are the last piece in the puzzle”

  1. Thanks for posting this! Another great article but you missed the most worrying point!

    “The police department of Richmond, Virginia, has pioneered the use of network-analysis software to predict crimes…Party plans turn out to be a particularly useful part of this picture. Richmond’s police have started monitoring Facebook, MySpace and Twitter messages”

    I believe I witnissed this first hand, the day after posting this article on my website (and via facebook and twitter) and after several posts about American drug law in general the Richmond Virginia police raided my second story apartment in the middle of the night with no explanation. (I happened to be spending the summer there on a placement). This seems like a very strange coincidence indeed!

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