How the NSA uses Social Networking Analytics to Track Down Suspects

After information leaked from insider Edward Snowden that the government is tracing our phone calls, text messages, emails and other forms of communication, privacy concerns have become a major issue among the American public. This process of collection accumulates a HUGE amount of data that can be searched and analyzed. While many people may feel uneasy that this process is being conducted every second of the day, research shows that this may be for the greater good.

Intelligence analysts are using similar techniques to social networking analysis to track down networks of terrorists using data mining. A widely praised paper released in 2002 evaluated the band of 19 terrorists involved in the 9/11 attacks and analyzed their network using communication data. They tracked four types of networks and mapped these relationships using nodes to represent each player involved, and a link that showed the strength of the relationship between each player.

The strength of each node was based on three different metrics: degree, betweenness, closeness. These metrics were used to identify players with the most influential, players who facilitated the strongest connections to outside groups, and players who had the closest position in the matrix to all other players involved. The strength of each relationship was measured by the frequency of communication between individuals.

Now you may be thinking, wait, how does this apply to marketing?

The government isn’t the only entity collecting our data. Major commercial industries are evaluating social networks and purchasing activity to map out consumer networks. Using this data they can better target individuals push out advertising content to on a regular basis. Looking at matrices like the ones developed by the NSA can easily identify key players within their industry (influencers, bandwagon fans etc.) and adapt their marketing strategy and advertising campaigns to take advantage of these key players in getting their message out there.

Most of us aren’t terrorists, but our communications ARE being looked at. Marketers and Social Media analysts are using data mining techniques to do social network analysis. So next time you are sharing something on Facebook or tweeting about your favorite brand on Twitter, realize that your data might just be utilized in developing the brand’s next big marketing strategy.


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