Modest Proposal: Use NSA's Metadata Collection To Create A Public Social Graph To Compete With Facebook & Google

from the everyone-wins! dept

I’ve found that I rarely agree with Evgeny Morozov, one of a small group of techno-pessimists who like to blame the world’s problems on technology (and, oddly, those who innovate with technology). However, I have to admit that his latest piece on Slate gave me a good laugh. In the tradition of Jonathan Swift, he suggests a way to kill two birds with one stone. Both the problem of all that data the NSA has collected on all of us and the fact that Google and Facebook have grown to be quite big based on the “social graph” info they have about all of us — information that would be hard for an upstart to replicate. The answer? Obviously: open up all that metadata the NSA has on all of us to the public, and let anyone build their own social network on top of it. After all, the NSA and its defenders keep telling us that it’s “just metadata” and there’s nothing privacy violating about that:

Now that Edward Snowden has blown the whistle on the extensive spying operations of the National Security Agency, this question seems obsolete. Take the NSA’s much-discussed collection of metadata—the seemingly benign (or so they claim) information about who calls whom and when. It’s precisely this kind of metadata that is needed to build a better publicly run social graph. In fact, the NSA has probably already built it—and not just for America but probably for users in many other countries as well—often with tacit cooperation from intelligence services and telecommunication providers of those countries….

[….] The NSA has all this data, and it’s not going away. (If anything, the much-discussed data storage center that the NSA is building in Utah suggests otherwise.) It would be a colossal mistake not to come up with a global institutional arrangement that would make at least chunks of that data available for public use. At the very (utopian) minimum, it should be possible to produce a rudimentary social graph and make it globally available—to be supervised by a civil agency, perhaps within the United Nations. The United States, which has always preached free markets to the rest of the world, can, perhaps, take the lead in making markets for search and social networking more competitive.

You might say that all this data should be private, but, hell, Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook took a ton of data that you thought was private as well, and flipped a switch to make most of it public, so why not the NSA? Jonathan Swift, eat your (poor childrens’) heart out.

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Comments on “Modest Proposal: Use NSA's Metadata Collection To Create A Public Social Graph To Compete With Facebook & Google”

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Ninja (profile) says:

I can imagine all sorts of hilarious outcomes:

– Checking a erectile dysfunction site for info? Get advertisements on Viagra and the likes, never mind you are doing some research for your medical course.
– Having cyber-sex with your girl? Get ads on sex shops and other kinky products.
– Talking about that plot to bomb the White House? Get ads on assault rifles, explosives and missiles.

See, everybody is happy!

out_of_the_blue says:

Re: Nah, I'm good...

@ AC: “I can always opt out of Facebook” –Actually, you can’t ALWAYS. For instance, if you wish to comment on many websites, LA Times for one, you must use Facebook to supply credentials.

And if you look for employment, many will wish to see your “social media” pages. Of course if you don’t have one, you’re entirely OUT of consideration.

Facebook is becoming de facto credentialer, so while you may be correct that you can dodge/choose now, that’s almost certainly not going to remain true.

The phony deal that evil people (and gullible fools) try to force on us: You can’t have the benefits of technology unless give up all privacy.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Nah, I'm good...

I’m aware that many websites require a facebook login to comment, and as such I don’t comment directly on the website.

I will be looking for employment in the upcoming months, in the IT field. In my mind a company’s desire to see a facebook page, and even go so far as to request the password, only indicates a corporate environment that I would be uncomfortable and unhappy in.
I do, however, maintain a Linked in account, which should be sufficient for any basic inquiries.

Facebook will, sooner or later, go the route of MySpace (along other previous networking sites) and be replaced by something better. Hopefully a networking site that has learned from recent events.

JTReyn (profile) says:

Nice try but no cigar

A very interesting proposition. Unfortunately, we wouldn’t get too far along before realizing this is insane. Making personal private information more accessible because NSA has it is just plain stupid. The first to exploit it would be scam artists, predators and their ilk.

Let’s not make everyone’s life an open book. We need to be doing quite the opposite. Make ourselves more invisible to Google, Facebook and the NSA. Use Tails & TOR for browsing, Textcrypt for text messages and Cellcrypt for mobile phone calls. Then, take everything off of Dropbox, Instagram, iCloud, etc, and stash it all in a Cloudlocker ( which works just the same but stays in the house where they still need a warrant to get inside.

I’ll bet we’ll see more tools like these as good ol’ Yankee ingenuity revs up to give people what they want – to keep private what remains of their private lives.

out_of_the_blue says:

Let's open up Facebook and Google too!

Like NSA, corporations are only specifically permitted by We The People to serve us, don’t have any intrinsic right to exist. But I bet Mike is suddenly against the notion.

Oh, and what’s the point of agreeing with a mere fantasy? — Especially a satire that’s actually opposite of what We The People want?– Unless you’re actually FOR just opening up the metadata and removing ALL vestiges of privacy? — It’s difficult to tell whether you’re serious, Mike, ’cause you have no visible position except to get page views.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:

Not yours, Mine

I would go the other way. If you want to use Facebook, and give them your information, it’s on your head, but forbid Facebook, and everybody else, to sell that information (including DMV’s and other government entities, or quasi government entities). For me, it is not the collection of information by companies, it is their ability and willingness to sell it that bothers me. Make that sale illegal, oh and wipe the NSA servers. It is, after all, MY information.

Profiling is not all it’s cracked up to be, and should be limited to law enforcement with a properly issued warrant.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

I Know This Isn't Serious, But...

There is ample precedent.

University publicly funded research is often published openly, and is frequently used by free market enterprises as a basis for their products, say, drugs.

The GPS you use every day has proprietary map data at it’s core, probably from Google, NavTeq, or Telenav. However, all of those cartography companies started their geo data using the TIGER database provided by the federal government. TIGER is old, but it gave everyone a pretty high platform as a starting point.

Crazy as the idea is, the NSA data exists. It’s ours. It could be useful. And as a tremendous starting point platform, it would create a more competitive environment for the technology/web/advertising industry.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: I Know This Isn't Serious, But...

Crazy as the idea is, the NSA data exists. It’s ours. It could be useful. And as a tremendous starting point platform, it would create a more competitive environment for the technology/web/advertising industry.

True. However, actually using that data would be a terrible, terrible thing.

Children are nutritious, probably tasty, and allowing their use in restaurants would be a tremendous boon for them. But none of that makes baby-eating a Good Idea.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Re: Re: I Know This Isn't Serious, But...

On one hand, I could back out the argument by saying “Well, I did say it was crazy.”, but instead, I’ll take the bait…

Sure, baby eating is a bad use of babies. But similarly, the TIGER database could have been used to plan bombing missions against the USA, or optimal drug dealer escape routes. The fact is, the data could be used for beneficial or malevolent uses, why do you exclusively focus on the negative? If so, please stop using a knife and fork, because they are frequenly used in baby eating, and should thus be banned.

The publicly funded research that produces useful drugs can also be used, in some instances, to produce chemical and biological weapons, therefore, you would also advocate against releasing that research, I suppose?

You see, pointing out that something CAN be used for evil really does nothing to educate the discussion of whether it should be done. The fact is, we ALREADY have the NSA data, it pretty much IS already being used for evil, why not make it also useful for something good?

Your position is more akin to saying: “Knives and forks are already used to eat babies, therefore, we should not try to find beneficial uses for knives and forks.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: I Know This Isn't Serious, But...

You DO know that the NSA started data-collecting with the express intention to sell the info to advertisers and junk mailers right?

We’ve been doing that in the UK for years…the government sells personal DVLA (driver info) / Tax data and National Health Service records (and MPs get a nice brown envelope full of cash in return)

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: I Know This Isn't Serious, But...

The fact is, we ALREADY have the NSA data, it pretty much IS already being used for evil, why not make it also useful for something good?

Because if we do that, it will make it impossible to achieve the goal that we should be aiming for: deleting the data and ensuring that the collection of it stops.

Corwin (profile) says:

What's so funny? They're right.

1. Surveillance is not going away. Ever.
2. The overwhelming majority of everyone has NO access to the data.
3. So, just publish the data. Problem solved.

No-one sane can say that their privacy is worth more than everyone else’s combined.

It would mean a leap for humanity about as important as the invention of WRITING. It would be the mirror held before Humanity’s face, screaming in its face “THIS IS WHAT YOU ARE”.

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