Guest post: Imagine the sort of thing that can be gleaned

Originally a comment by latsot on He’d blab all the secrets if only he knew anything about them.

As the text says, it’s not only secret information that’s damaging. We all routinely give away far more information than is good for us. We tend to assume that the minutia of our lives are uninteresting and cannot harm us (if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear).

We do crazy things like tell Amazon who our friends and family are, when their birthdays are and the sort of stuff they like. In fact, it’s worse than that, because we tell them the sort of stuff we think they like. Of course, if they are Amazon customers too, they can compare what we think they like with what they think they like, which is one hell of a powerful way to target ads. Amazon constructs complex social networks based on the information we freely and unguardedly give them. It uses them to manipulate us into buying things in complex and subtle ways. It encourages us to flesh out the weak or hypothesised links in those social networks by, for example, sending us ads for things we think a person it guesses is connected to us would like, round about the time it thinks their birthday might be, in the hope that it will remind us of that person and trigger us to buy them something. They don’t really care about making money from whatever we’ve bought, they want us to flesh out the bones of the social network they’re building. It’s a long game and Amazon isn’t selling what you think they’re selling.

This is a really cheap thing for Amazon to do. It doesn’t lose anything with these fishing expeditions. In fact, it learns something from every time we don’t take the bait, too.

And this is just us. We’re nobody. We don’t have any big important secrets. Amazon doesn’t care about big important secrets because it knows it can manipulate us using the stuff we actually want to tell it. And all it wants is to make money. And Amazon is not targeting us specifically to achieve specific goals. It doesn’t care whether it adds a link to an aunt or to a friend. It doesn’t care what you buy for them. It cares about what you bought for them after it sent you some fishing ads.

So imagine the sort of thing that can be gleaned by monitoring Trump’s calls and data traffic. He’s a highly specific target and there are presumably vast resources aimed at him, with fairly specific goals. This makes him a much easier target than any of us, if the goal is to find ways to manipulate him. Imagine foreign governments building up the same sort of social network around him and his contacts as Amazon does about us, with the added benefit of highly trained and creative analysts, all focused on this one person…

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