Meta-data contains a great deal of information, and when gathered together it forms a startlingly clear picture of the person it comes from. A point that Professor César Hidalgo and graduate students Daniel Smilkov and Deepak Jagdish of MIT are trying to get across.
They have created a new program called Immersion. It works by signing you into your Gmail account and collecting only the meta-data from your account usage history. From there you can get a picture of your emailing habits from that single account, and you will be shocked at what you see.
According to the three creators, there are four purposes to the program: self-reflection, artistic representation, privacy revelations and the ability to develop a strategy in your communications on a professional level.
For those worried about giving their meta-data to yet another third-party, don’t worry. You have complete control over whether it remains in Immersion’s system, or it is deleted. Which Hidalgo says is an important element to the process.
“What I believe is, if you’re going to make platforms that deal with personal data, you have to develop ways of doing this in such a way that you can be transparent with the user about the data you have, about how you’re handling it, and about how the user can withdraw the data from your system.” he said in a recent interview.
Everyone should try Immersion to get a clear view of exactly what meta-data is, and what is says about you. Then take a moment to think of all the places the government is taking it: email accounts, social media profiles, phone conversations, even traditional mail. Don’t be complacent, because this is not a small issue.
Think about it…if meta-data was useless, why would they be collecting it?
There has been a huge amount of backlash against government agencies around the world over programs like PRISM, which they use to survey average citizens on a daily basis. Accusations are continuing to be released, as whistle blower Edward Snowden defiantly reveals more information about such projects. Just today, he spoke out about agencies in Australia and New Zealand he claims are connected to PRISM, and France has allegedly been running their own project against its citizens.
But while the anger isn’t surprising, the widespread complacency of others absolutely is. While the NSA and GCHQ cynically brush off concern, Americans and Britons alike have been playing into their hands. More than once I have heard the phrase “It’s just meta-data, it doesn’t say anything!”