The Intimate Social Graph [telecom]

The Intimate Social Graph

How private are the most private communications you have on social networking sites?

by Keith Dawson October 14, 2010

For a number of years I have had a privacy concern that is just now beginning to peep into view on the Internet at large. Around 2001 I spent some time in a casual multiuser game hosted by PopCap. It featured a way that two players could chat in a private space while playing the game. The game was centrally hosted: each user's local Java applet talked with a PopCap server, so every keystroke typed in those private conversations was sent up to the server and back out to the other party's client. I wondered at the time: were those conversations being stored? How about the metadata describing which players talked privately with which others, and how often? If so, then from what I observed, the resulting log files could have kept an army of divorce lawyers gainfully employed for years to come.

Fast-forward to 2010. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and MySpace each sit on a rapidly expanding treasure-trove of data about the users who frequent their services. Aspects of this data have value to different audiences. Knowledge of users' interests, likes, and enthusiasms clearly is coveted for targeting advertising. Knowledge of the users' "social graphs" -- who connects to whom and in what manner of relationship -- may be of interest to social science researchers, and occasionally to law enforcement. But what of the "intimate social graph?" All these services allow users to communicate privately with one another. The social networking services store not only the graph metadata (who communicates with whom and when), but also the content of these private communications. What happens when government agents

-- or divorce lawyers -- come calling?


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Monty Solomon
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