The power is in the edges

I’ve argued that it isn’t social media unless there are relational edges between individuals or individual objects. These edges are the drivers of power because the graph structure that emerges from them reveals a lot more than the individual nodes and edges do.

The number of LinkedIn contacts I have is now large enough that I can tell this story. I know someone from one of the more secretive US government organizations. His (or it might be her) public web presence, of course, has nothing at all to do with his day job, and we’ve never exchanged emails using his public email. Yet LinkedIn suggests him as someone I might possibly know.

The reason must be that we have enough mutual connections that the software LinkedIn uses sees that there “should” be some connection between us — it is doing edge prediction. This is exactly the kind of analysis that good intelligence tools can do on relational/graph data. The knowledge is in the links, collectively; in other words, noticing the potential link between us requires knowing both the presence of some links and the absence of others (because the system doesn’t recommend other people whose web presence is as dissimilar from mine as his is).

So, well done LinkedIn, but a cautionary tale for security folks generally, and especially those who believe in anonymization — it can’t be done!

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