Getting the Intel on Social Networking

The task of any Military Intelligence (MI) gathering operation is essentially to first observe and document relationships and then to describe and build models of these relationships with network graphs.  So Military Intelligence organizations often create networks of equipment and assets, organizational hierarchies, and, perhaps just a little more insidiously, interpersonal relationships.

With all of the intense media buzz lately about Facebook and other social networking sites, I couldn’t help but see the similarity of the tasks and objectives of these sites with Military Intelligence gathering operations.   One is labeled “Market Research” while the other is called “Military Intelligence Gathering (hopefully-but not always-against an adversary),” but in most ways they are indistinguishable*.   

While I find this more than just a little disturbing, I’m not quite ready to take on the breadth of this subject matter yet.  But I do want to answer the first questions: Who are these sites?  Which are most popular?  What are their primary categories and audiences?

Preliminary Findings:

Social Networking and (Micro)Blogging:
MySpace (Fox Interactive Media)
orkut (Google)
Windows Live Spaces (Microsoft)

Business Relationship Management:

Multimedia (Photos, Video, Music):


Social News:

School/Organizational Networking:


* This line has blurred to the point where, as reported in the FRONTLINE program “Spying on the Home Front,” the US Intelligence Community actually uses aggregated marketing and credit card databases to perform data mining.


2 Responses to “Getting the Intel on Social Networking”

  1. 1 scotchcart February 13, 2008 at 4:49 pm

    Inside-out intelligence. The way not to knot one’s knickers is to study social trends and where we are going because we want to be there with people we love.

    To illustrate, let me contrast my local grocery stores. The big sophisticated supermarket chain spends a fortune on intelligence and then bamboozles me with bribes to shop there and even sends me vouchers to get my money back. They have no idea who I am or what I like to eat or what I am likely to buy next week. If I wanted to make an ethnic dish of mine, they couldn’t care and they have no mechanism to help.

    My local supermarket has a loyalty card but that’s where mechanical analysis of me ends. They know my name in store, they point out to me if I am buying something in an expensive way (say there is a 2 for 1 offer that is similar) and they will find things for me when I can’t find them. They would notice if I was asking for unusual things but they would end there.

    My deli doesn’t know my name yet (I go there less often) but they remember all my purchases, they do know the country I am from (pronounciation and tastes) and they will refuse to sell me things that are a bad idea (in their mind). Yep, they veto sales and suggest something more to their taste.

    The local hardware store is the same. Purchases deemed silly because they are too expensive are blocked. Purchases deemed dangerous probably would be blocked as well – the owner used to be a fireman.

    At the local gym, I heard the proprietor ringing a parent, very gently and kindly, to verify why a teenager was able to pay his membership fee in cash.

    That’s where intelligence comes from. Our wish to provide fine service to people we care about.

  2. 2 swfoundry February 13, 2008 at 5:54 pm

    Thanks for the observation. I like the comparison of your local market/deli and a social networking site in terms of the kind of information known about your personal habits, lifestyle, residence, etc. No doubt, these local businesses also do in fact know and use your personal information to better market you.

    Where I feel the differences lie are in
    – The size, scale, sharing, and automation of these well-funded multi-national conglomerates
    – Terms of service that often grant many loopholes
    – The abilities of secondary businesses and governments to obtain, use, and potentially abuse this information

    An interesting story that relates to your comments and these points is how the US intelligence services were allegedly using credit card records of purchases at Middle Eastern Delis to perform data mining operations. Just a small example of how such records can be abused.

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