Data Mining is so hot right now.

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Man, have I been on a conspiracy kick lately. Timing is strange. I published my exposé on Facebook, then it broke that the NSA was spying with no balance of power. Since then it has been one thing after another, making my first few entries on this blog all about possible conspiracies.

Well, today a couple of interesting tid-bits hit the web.

1. Data Mining 101: Finding Subversives with Amazon Wishlists:
Amazon wishlists lets anyone bookmark books for later purchase. By default these lists are public and available to anybody who searches by name. If the wishlist creator specifies a shipping address, someone else can even purchase the book on Amazon and have it shipped directly as a gift. The wishlist creator's city and state are made public on the wishlist, but the street address remains private. Amazon's popularity has created a vast database of wishlists. No index of all wishlists is available, but it remains possible to view all wishlists by people of a particular first name. A recent search for people named Mark returned 124,887 publicly viewable wishlists.

For an all inclusive search by name, you could compile a comprehensive list of first names and nicknames from the baby names databases available on the internet. Armed with this list, and by recording the search results for each first name, it is possible for you to retrieve the vast majority of public wishlists on Amazon.

2. Trent Lapinksi's 'MySpace Report', a culmination of various research he's been doing to answer the question "Who is running MySpace?". See also, The Truth about MySpace and Why Doesn't Anyone Ask Who Actually Runs MySpace?. Apparently Trent has been threatened with legal action in response to his snooping.
I know the site was bought by Fox, but Fox didn't start the site, plus much of the original staff still appears to be employed. For reasons unknown, no one seems to ask who Tom Anderson is, and most of all no one asks who Chris DeWolfe is (MySpace's CEO). When I looked into who these guys pasts I found a web of issues ranging from rumors of running porn websites to possible connections to investment fraud. When I simply asked MySpace about these allegations they threatened to sue me.

MySpace is now just over 2 years old and is one of the biggest websites on the internet yet no one knows where or how it came to be. Isn't it of millions of people's concern to know who runs the website they confide so much in? Why hasn't the media or blogosphere asked this question?

This brings me full circle to the problem I see with Facebook and its eerie "privacy" policy. People sign up for things because they are fun and free and never think twice to read the fine print. At best, you're providing information that can be sold and you might run into a spam problem. Worse, you're voluntarily indexing your interests and contacts for the easy perusal of security agencies (or, anyone else that is interested).

On that note, I have had a lot of comments and e-mails saying "Who cares?" or "Facebook is just your favorite music!" That simply isn't true. Facebook has already been used to arrest students for questionable behavior at some colleges. Perhaps most useful to security agencies are the "Party" and "Event" planning features in Facebook. This keeps a calendar of events, linked to all students who have RSVP'd. Many of these events are political in nature (click here for an example).

That said, government spying and data mining will ultimately only affect those who are "up to no good." But is that the point? How free are we if we are constantly being watched? Not only that, but once we accept surveillance as normal, where will the slippery slope carry us?

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