Edward Snowden brought the issue of online privacy back to the top of our agenda, when he revealed how much of the average citizen’s personal details were being collected, stored and analyzed, by the American Government. Still, this kind of news can feel like a distant reality somehow; like something that is done to everyone else, but us. But, what if we could put ourselves in the shoes of a person under surveillance? Well, enter Immersion.
Immersion is an online tool developed by three researchers at the MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) that allows users to have a sort of God-like view of their email lives. Through basic information extracted from an email account (“From”, “To”, “Cc” and “Timestamp” fields), this tool developed by researchers D. Simonov, D. Jadish, and C. Hidalgo, is able to present the account owner with a list of his contacts and their interconnections, displayed in a very visual manner, which challenges the user to consider issues such as:
- How much correspondence does he send and receive;
- Who does he communicate with the most; and,
- What could someone with access to his data (the government, for example) learn about him, his habits and his personal life.
My five and a half years of Gmail activity, for example, tell me that family and friends are the core of my email life. I email my wife the most, followed by my two brothers, their wives, and other three very close friends. I guess that this would be, in part, a direct result of a lot of traveling and relocation, and also of trying to use separate email accounts, for work and for personal life.
Now, imagine if one of the persons I communicate with the most was to be implicated on a terrorist plot of which I knew nothing about: could I be automatically taken for a key suspect by my Government? Keep in mind that this knowledge goes back as far as the age of my email account, and that the same principle of surveillance could be applied to my communications by phone and text message.
What about you: What would they find out if they spied on you? Do you know? Well, why don’t you give Immersion a go yourself?
To view your own info, simply head to the Immersion website and login with your Gmail address, and then wait for a few minutes as it gathers your information for presentation. Note that the tool only works with Gmail accounts at the moment. And be sure to read the privacy terms and disclaimers on the site before logging in. Enjoy.
Lastly, do let me know what your thoughts are on Immersion, and on the whole cyber security issue. And if you try the tool yourself, it would be great to know your opinion on the results.