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What the NSA Sees in Our Gmail

Some brave people at MIT have put out a little web app that will generate a picture of your gmail use.

Here’s mine:

dots and connections of different sizes and colors to graphically illustrate who I email. First names only.

Lots of networks and stand-alone people there. I wish I could run this on my verizon, yahoo, hotmail and other accounts too.

As you can see, according to gmail, I have a few isolated networks and many non-connected-to-each-other people. The incomplete data is because I have several email accounts and I use each one for different parts of my life. Gmail I use as follows: The green network you see is the library trustees and staff, with whom I work in my volunteer capacity as the VP of the Board of Trustees. The orange bunch is my group of neighbors and close mom friends with whom I share childcare and picnics, etc. These people don’t text much, so emails tend to stack up. The red dots are between my graphic designer, Rick Wolff and another friend of mine, Scott, because we are all working on a project together. All the rest are one-to-one conversations.

If I were to analyze this, I’d guess that a person with many one-to-one email conversation has a lot of friends, does some sort of customer support or does customer support for a lot of friends. Actually though, I am usually the one emailing my friends with quick questions (and they are kind enough to answer me).

A fuller picture would be made if one could aggregate all of my email accounts, my texting records and my phone records, which, in fact, the NSA can do. Easily.

Does it seem like faceless, anonymous metadata now? No. The NSA can easily gather from this whom I love, who are my top friends, where I spend most of my time and whether or not I have any relationship at all to other people they may be investigating. All without a warrant. The NSA Newspeak generators want you to believe that metadata is harmless, that if you “have nothing to hide” that you shouldn’t worry.

Private email accounts, private phone records, etc., should be private and require a warrant to search. This is non-negotiable if we want to preserve the civil liberties upon which the USA was founded. It’s just that simple. Data mining without protections is a step toward martial law (<-thems is stong words, I reckon. But I also reckon this is the time fer strong words. Dictators and communists spy on their own people;it never supposed to be for US).

Counteract anyone who is under the “nothing to hide” myth. Write or call your senators. This slippery slope is only just getting started, and we must be active now.

UPDATE: The Verge just caught on to this story. One commenter added this helpful little link: A comprehensive tracking program using cellular and Twitter data, using one politician’s life. The NSA can do this to you, too. Easily.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Mike_S_Htown 7 July 2013, 12:56 pm

    Neat, thanks! I depend on my e-mail too much to give the app access — but I wonder how long it would take to crank through my 7.8 GB of Gmail e-mail dating back to the mid-90’s (I imported my archives into Gmail)!

    • PurpleCar 7 July 2013, 1:49 pm

      Well, it looks like the first bit only went back 1.4 years for me or so. And I don’t use gmail all that much, actually. But looking at those numbers, geez, I could really cut down on email!

      • Mike_S_Htown 7 July 2013, 4:53 pm

        I’m a dinosaur — I have been using e-mail since 1980. One of the things I hate about social media and instant messaging: no history (or a difficult-to-access one, anyway). I have taken to Evernoting or sending an e-mail to myself whenever I post or receive a FB/text/instant/etc. msg that I think I may refer to later…

        Gmail says that I have 388,812 msgs in my All Mail folder. 🙂

        • PurpleCar 8 July 2013, 2:19 pm

          Yeah the scary thing is that stuff you try to delete from Gmail isn’t actually deleted. But I find it interesting that you’d want a history of your IM’s or social media (BTW, you can get a Twitter archive… FB too I believe?). Why would you want that?

          • Mike_S_Htown 8 July 2013, 8:03 pm

            Well, let’s see…

            –I don’t get/send any e-mail that I need to expunge forever. So far, anyway. [That was not a challenge, BTW. 🙂 ]

            –If I need a copy of something I IM’d (very rarely), I copy it to Gmail.

            –Getting stuff out of a Twitter/FB archive is really annoying. Much easier to copy it to Gmail or Evernote.

            –There are apps that tie together all sources (e-mail, FB, Twitter, Dropbox, Gdrive, etc.) for one-stop searching, but I don’t use them. CloudMagic is prob the most well-known and full-featured:

            Gmail/Evernote does me, for now!