Your email can tell a lot about you, whether you like it or not! Following in the wake of the NSA data tracking scandal, NPR reports on the MIT Media Lab’s Immersion tool. When you log in to the Immersion website, you’re asked to select either Gma il or MS Exchange; once you had over access to your data (don’t worry – metadata only!) the tool maps your connections based on the metadata available in your email. The amazing thing is you can learn quite a bit from the map of your metadata. Well, in reality, it’s not quite that amazing. The Immersion tool, and the NSA’s data tracking program, are both leverage what network scientists have known for quite some time now; the traces of our communication behavior reveal quite a bit about our social behavior. One does not need to look at the content of an email to understand who strong and weak ties are in a communication network. Likewise, it’s not difficult to discern who we garner social capital from based on communication patterns. What the NSA is doing is simply leveraging new computing capacity to extrapolate small scale phenomena out onto a much larger scale; the question is, can we learn anything new from this data and from these tools (from a social science perspective)?
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