Monday, November 24, 2014

Networks and Their Importance

This is the first of hopefully more posts on social networks and how important they can be potentially to retrieve information about people.  The post that got me interested in networks themselves was a fictitious story of the government using social network analysis (SNA) to find Paul Revere.  It essentially shows how by knowing the memberships people have in certain groups we can infer as to peoples' relational connections (with each other) and amid these connections who would be a person that would be either influential in certain groups or across groups (hopefully that made sense).

Below is an excerpt from the blog post (link below):

"The analysis in this report is based on information gathered by our field agent Mr David Hackett Fischer and published in an Appendix to his lengthy report to the government. As you may be aware, Mr Fischer is an expert and respected field Agent with a broad and deep knowledge of the colonies. I, on the other hand, have made my way from Ireland with just a little quantitative training—I placed several hundred rungs below the Senior Wrangler during my time at Cambridge—and I am presently employed as a junior analytical scribe at ye olde National Security Administration. Sorry, I mean the Royal Security Administration. And I should emphasize again that I know nothing of current affairs in the colonies. However, our current Eighteenth Century beta of PRISM has been used to collect and analyze information on more than two hundred and sixty persons (of varying degrees of suspicion) belonging variously to seven different organizations in the Boston area."

Full Post on Using SNA to find Paul Revere

For those not interested in the numbers particularly but just in a humorous yet realistic use of SNA this blog post is worth a read.  It also provide a sobering/realistic perspective on how our digital trails could be used to find our associations (hopefully you read that without suspecting me to be too paranoid).  Understanding networks can be a powerful tool in somewhat understanding people without actually knowing them.  This may have been what Donald Rumsfeld was talking about when he mentioned "known unknowns".