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IBM Uses Call-Detail Records To Identify "Friends"

timothy posted more than 5 years ago | from the that's-comforting dept.

Patents 116

theodp writes "Big Blue may know what you did last summer. Or at least who you called. In a move out of the NSA's playbook, IBM Research has been scrutinizing the call-detail records of 'one of the largest mobile operators in the world' (PDF). By analyzing who calls whom, and for how long, IBM claims its patent-pending snooping software can now identify circles of 'friends' who tend to exhibit the same profit-threatening behavior. 'We believe that our analysis is a first of its kind that exploits the underlying social network in a telecom call graph,' boasted a team of IBM researchers and a UMD prof. For now, IBM seems to have focused on using the info to see if your friends are churners, so you can be dealt with pro-actively lest you follow their lead and bolt. However, IBM suggests its SNAzzy data mining technology (Social Network Analysis for Telecom Business Intelligence) has a bright future, noting it 'is also capable of analyzing any kind of social network or graph, not just telecom networks.'"

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How can we churn? (1)

oDDmON oUT (231200) | more than 5 years ago | (#28911631)

Without breaking our two year contract and sacrificing your deposit.

Uh-oh (5, Insightful)

davidwr (791652) | more than 5 years ago | (#28911637)

So if several of my friends have poor credit ratings or are frequently arrested for petty crimes, I may not get a job?

Not good, not good at all.

Re:Uh-oh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28911709)

Just get better friends.

Re:Uh-oh (2, Informative)

blackraven14250 (902843) | more than 5 years ago | (#28911891)

Yeah, change due to the will of a corporation!

Re:Uh-oh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28912191)

or maybe we should stop passing laws that needlessly demonize..

Re:Uh-oh (1)

RichardJenkins (1362463) | more than 5 years ago | (#28911937)

Not at IBM - rejoice!

Re:Uh-oh (1)

hairyfeet (841228) | more than 5 years ago | (#28914915)

I hate to go Godwin on the thread here, but it isn't like IBM hasn't found ways to use data to do evil things [ibmandtheholocaust.com] before.

Re:Uh-oh (1)

evanbd (210358) | more than 5 years ago | (#28912395)

It's OK, though, because we're using the computer to do it. It's not bad, like it would be if we'd used some directly-observable thing that correlates with those, like your race, age, or music preferences.

Re:Uh-oh (2, Interesting)

rtb61 (674572) | more than 5 years ago | (#28913895)

Instead and looking at your preferences it analysis social interactions and establishes a method by which they can mimic those social interactions in order to what, manipulate your choices and future social interactions.

What is interesting is specially they are seeking to monitor non-customers ie. using customers as judas goats to analyse the behaviour of the people they contact. Reminds me of the whole g-mail thing, whose email is it, the person who sends it (a gmail customer), the person who receives it (a non-gmail customer who now has no choice as to whether some of their email is analysed) or the corporations that temporarily handles it.

It's like more and more companies are looking at the privacy invasiveness of facebook, google, M$ and seeking to spread it into every facet of human life, to what convert humanity into droid buy bots, the 21st century equivalent of consumers. Looks like we are going to need tools like this http://mrl.nyu.edu/~dhowe/TrackMeNot/faq.html#options [nyu.edu] not only to obscure searches but also to obscure email and even voip phone calls. So in the future 80% of your communications will not be genuine but random obscuring coms designed to regain your privacy by burying under a ton of obscuring, pointless and wasteful coms. It seems much simpler, simpler and more energy efficient to legislate back in privacy and respect for the individual, let's get some 'mind your own fucking business' back into the market.

Arguments for Why this is Really Bad (1)

progliberty (1530571) | more than 5 years ago | (#28915319)

The problem with stuff like this is it's intended to crush dissent against institutions like big business and governmental power, things which democracy and liberty in stuff like the Constitution of the United States were meant to keep the government stable and the people happy, because they would adjust their lives to the reality of their social and physical environment. If Americans all know they are being watched all the time and more and more "odd" behavior (not simply disliking your boss) they will appear "normal" on the outside yet will be increasingly psychologically screwed up on the inside. Didn't the 50's tell us anything? Human history has been a sort of narrative of the struggle between the people at large against the desire for small groups to amass control over their lives in order to extract wealth, etc. If Americans are monitored and watched all the time, how will the USA be fundamentally different from Maoist China? It's obvious this sort of technology would be used by the ruling powers... business, religion, the military, the police... to ultimately control human beings even when the reason human beings are disobeying the authorities is because something is fundamentally wrong with the authorities way of thinking. If you destroy the social contract (the unwritten rule that the ruling powers will only be allowed to rule so long as they actually serve the interests of the people who created the power in the first place as a means of managing more complicated things) you pave the way for a culture that produces nothing new, and gives birth to uninspired youth, and has no inoculation against forces that will eventually destroy that society because it isn't flexible in the face of chaotic nature at all.

Re:Uh-oh (1)

HanzoSpam (713251) | more than 5 years ago | (#28913535)

Not good, not good at all.

Indeed. Let's face it - regardless of whether or not it supports open source, IBM has become a plain evil company. Again.

Re:Uh-oh (1)

ps2os2 (1216366) | more than 5 years ago | (#28913701)

You betcha and hope your mother did not got turned for using brand X.

Re:How can we churn? (1)

Z00L00K (682162) | more than 5 years ago | (#28911683)

First you may explain the term "churn" when it comes to telecom.

The only thing I get when running it to Googles translator is how to make butter.

Re:How can we churn? (5, Informative)

Ezel (249772) | more than 5 years ago | (#28911805)

Wiktionary [wiktionary.org] gives asomewhat better answer:
1. A vessel used for churning.
        a butter churn
2. (telecommunications) The time when a consumer switches his/her service provider.
3. (telecommunications) The mass of people who are ready to switch carriers, expressed by the formula Customer Quits/Customer base.

I wonder how the etymology on that is explained.

Re:How can we churn? (1)

cream wobbly (1102689) | more than 5 years ago | (#28911935)

I wonder how the etymology on that is explained.

By simple analogy, I would guess: it "churns up" the customer database when people start switching providers.

Re:How can we churn? (4, Interesting)

St.Creed (853824) | more than 5 years ago | (#28912163)

Churning seems to mean (in general) "to agitate, to upset, to replace old with new". As far as I know the word "churn" has been used as a synonym for "turnover" in several areas, including banking, e-commerce and telecom.

Thanks (1)

jasper_amsterdam (788332) | more than 5 years ago | (#28915029)

I was beginning to wonder whether they had a problem with butter

Re:How can we churn? (4, Informative)

Epsilon Moonshade (108853) | more than 5 years ago | (#28911785)

I actually read TFA! "Churn" is apparently when people switch from one carrier to another, presumably at the end of the contract. (This answers both the parent poster, and one in this same thread)

That being said, it looks like they'd be using this data to identify who's likely to switch over, and sweeten their deals a bit to keep them - at least, in the context of cell phone companies and the like. Obviously, this has other implications outside of cell companies, but I'm sticking with the original thought on this one.

So how do we game this system? Find people who have recently changed carriers and start having them call you. Free better phone for staying with a carrier you'd probably have already stayed with!

Silly, yes, I know. Thanks.

Re:How can we churn? (1)

value_added (719364) | more than 5 years ago | (#28911971)

I actually read TFA! "Churn" is apparently when people switch from one carrier to another, presumably at the end of the contract. (This answers both the parent poster, and one in this same thread)

I'm not sure I understand. Is this an IBM version of Amazon's "Customers who bought this also bought ..." in a profit-threatening (whatever that means) context? If so, maybe we can integrate it into Slashdot's moderation system and identify basement dwellers, astroturfers, and Mac fanboys. ;-)

Re:How can we churn? (1)

Jurily (900488) | more than 5 years ago | (#28912171)

So how do we game this system? Find people who have recently changed carriers and start having them call you.

So for only $500 worth of phone calls, you'll get a dollar off your monthly bill!

P.S. This again shows how corporations think. I'm not a valued customer, I'm a dot in a graph who tends to exhibit profit-threatening behavior.

Re:How can we churn? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28912427)

Don't do business with them. Seriously. It's not so hard to live without a cellular phone. If you really need a mobile, you can get a pre-paid phone, where they CAN'T treat you like this. I spend about $50 a year on my phone this way. Now that's profit threatening behavior.

Re:How can we churn? (1)

an unsound mind (1419599) | more than 5 years ago | (#28913201)

I get a regular contract *that doesn't actually tie me down*.

As a result I'm paying $150 a year for unlimited internet access. On my mobile. 3

Social studies like this are interesting, but ... (1)

wintermute1974 (596184) | more than 5 years ago | (#28914687)

The patent application makes for interesting reading, and they have certainly developed a clever system for monitoring their customers and the relationships they have with other callers. The application states the obvious: It is easier to retain customers than to search for new ones, and with church rates of possibly 50% to 70% of subscribers per year, this is something that mobile providers have to worry about.

But I think this misses the point completely. Why are people churning? Could it be that mobile telephone service has become a commodity, and that mobile users are unable to discern any difference in call quality or service level between mobile providers? That is also a possibility.

Not to mention the multitude of different calling packages that mobile operators offer. There are so many different plans with different features and options that consumers are unable to make a rational, meaningful decision on which plan is best for them. And so maybe the carriers have caused churn in the first place: If I can't tell I'm getting the best value for the money, my best option is to keep switching plans and carriers, as the odds of me ever discovering the One True Plan are vanishingly small.

Re:How can we churn? (1)

St.Creed (853824) | more than 5 years ago | (#28912013)

By not getting a 2-year contract but a simple phone and a prepaid contract that can be left whenever you feel like it. It saves you enough to buy a new phone in a few years without getting tied down by the telco's.

Ofcourse, if you're one of those people who can't live without a *new* phone each year, by all means enjoy your slavery.

Re:How can we churn? (2, Insightful)

cymen (8178) | more than 5 years ago | (#28912365)

In the USA, whenever one of the two parties in a contract wants to change the terms, the new terms must be agreed to by both parties or the contract can be cancelled. Typically, the verbiage that one can cancel the contract and get out of the terms without loosing the deposit is buried in all the other legalese. But it should be there.

More Fascism from Big Blue (2, Interesting)

Foobar of Borg (690622) | more than 5 years ago | (#28911639)

I mean, what can you expect from a company that was perfectly willing to profit from the Holocaust? [amazon.com]

Re:More Fascism from Big Blue (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28911691)

The Jews still profit from the holocaust to this very day.

Re:More Fascism from Big Blue (1)

blackraven14250 (902843) | more than 5 years ago | (#28911901)

So do the Iranians, as since they have something to deny having happened, it makes the Jews look worse for "lying".

Re:More Fascism from Big Blue (1)

St.Creed (853824) | more than 5 years ago | (#28911921)

You mean,

as in this scenario?
Step 1: Take out life-insurance on your family.
Step 2: Kill them.
Step 3: ...
Step 4: Profit!

Too bad a (large) number of Western banks voided their insurances, denied any knowledge about their clients, took their cash, and helped to sell the property stolen from them. But otherwise it was a great plot, to have Hitler kill them all off just so they the survivors could collect life-insurance.

Note to AC: if you want to avoid the flamebait moderation, perhaps you should qualify your writings a bit more. As it stands, it is antisemitic bullshit.

Re:More Fascism from Big Blue (1)

St.Creed (853824) | more than 5 years ago | (#28911959)

Gaaaah, slashdot removed my /sarcasm tags - sorry for that, my sarcasm-recognition-impaired fellow humans.

Re:More Fascism from Big Blue (1)

jedidiah (1196) | more than 5 years ago | (#28912977)

The assumption of sarcasm only works if there aren't
a large number of people for whom the statement would
be stated with complete sincerity. (like Iranian
presidents)

Re:More Fascism from Big Blue (1)

Bu11etmagnet (1071376) | more than 5 years ago | (#28914435)

Uh ? How many Iranian presidents are there ?

Re:More Fascism from Big Blue (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28912593)

They're also running the UK's national swine flu service, but they don't like to talk about that. IBM - profiting from human misery for 60 years!

Oh just for the record, as well helping the nazis they also built rifles for the allies.

Re:More Fascism from Big Blue (1)

AHuxley (892839) | more than 5 years ago | (#28913671)

IBM helped build a better, stronger Europe in the 1940's
Now its your turn :)

BULLSHIT (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28912853)

This bullshit accusation comes up every time anyone mentions IBM and is a great way to get guaranteed mod points on oh-so-politically-correct-slashdot. Here's what "Foobar of Borg" doesn't tell you:

- the book was written by the former publisher of "OS/2 magazine", Edwin Black, who profited from his association with IBM for many years until its folding in 96 [os2bbs.com]
- Black also "co-incidentally" launched a high profile lawsuit against IBM that was summarily thrown out of court, but the press did not cover this fact.
- Many people [ckprojects.org] have questioned the authenticity [upenn.edu] and accuracy of the accusations [businessweek.com] , which while juicy, do not stand up to close scrutiny.

Ultimately Black's assertions are like claiming that gun manufacturers are responsible for the murders that are committed with their products, or that manufacturers of crowbars are responsible for breakins, or that people who write Linux are morally responsible for the many people who die when it is used by the US military.

- Anonymous, because I will almost certainly be accused of being anti-semitic, even though I am jewish.

Re:BULLSHIT (1)

Foobar of Borg (690622) | more than 5 years ago | (#28914023)

Ultimately Black's assertions are like claiming that gun manufacturers are responsible for the murders that are committed with their products, or that manufacturers of crowbars are responsible for breakins, or that people who write Linux are morally responsible for the many people who die when it is used by the US military.

Even if some of the accusations in Black's book are not provable, it has been well substantiated that IBM was more than happy to sell the Nazis Hollerith tabulated punch card machines, even though they knew that they would be used to keep track of the Jews and other "undesirables" in conquered territories. In fact, your three links don't even question this, but merely the level of culpability of IBM.

Gun manufacturers are not responsible for murders because there are plenty of legitimate reasons to own firearms. However, someone who knowingly sells a gun to someone he knows is going to go out and commit a murder with is morally culpable. If I give a crowbar to someone I know is going to go and use it to commit a break-in, then I am also responsible to a degree. Selling tabulating machines to a group known to be murderously anti-semitic knowing that they will be used to keep track of the people that group wants to exterminate is certainly blameworthy.

Re:More Fascism from Big Blue (1)

hawk (1151) | more than 5 years ago | (#28912961)

Oh, yes. The same people are in control of IBM today as were sixty years ago.

hawk

Re:More Fascism from Big Blue (1)

HanzoSpam (713251) | more than 5 years ago | (#28913579)

No, the people that were running it 60 years ago were unethical, but smart. This bunch is unethical without the smarts.

(Remedy post) (1)

getuid() (1305889) | more than 5 years ago | (#28913429)

(Posting this to undo accidental moderation, sorry.)

Academic ethics at work? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28911647)

"UMD prof"

If this was an academic study, then the raw data was (or should have been) typified (anonymized). Therefore it would not be useful for identifying real world "friends" responsible for "profit-threatening behavior". Rather, it would be a group analysis tool.

Not to say I'd give my informed consent to any of this analysis, but clarity on how the raw was handled.

Re:Academic ethics at work? (1)

HangingChad (677530) | more than 5 years ago | (#28912003)

If this was an academic study, then the raw data was (or should have been) typified (anonymized).

Yeah, but how hard would it be for the computing power of IBM to hang real names on a large amount of pattern data? Maybe they could just line up the typified data with say...their own cellular bills. It wouldn't be that difficult to start attaching employee names to the anonymous data. Just like code breaking. The more data points you can fill in, the more real names you assign with a high degree of confidence.

Re:Academic ethics at work? (1)

AHuxley (892839) | more than 5 years ago | (#28913673)

Raw data is big and bulky, just use one unique number and sort.
Just like in WW2.

Valuble research but -- opt in or opt out? (2, Interesting)

nbauman (624611) | more than 5 years ago | (#28912091)

There have been some really important results from social network analysis.

The Collective Dynamics of Smoking in a Large Social Network http://content.nejm.org/cgi/content/full/358/21/2249 [nejm.org]

The Spread of Obesity in a Large Social Network over 32 Years http://content.nejm.org/cgi/content/full/357/4/370 [nejm.org]

However, in these studies, all the subjects had joined the study and given permission in writing for the researchers to use their personal data.

It would clear a lot of things up if we could see the documents that the UMD professor submitted to the university's human subjects review board, and the documents they sent him in reply.

Re:Academic ethics at work? (3, Insightful)

Dogtanian (588974) | more than 5 years ago | (#28912137)

If this was an academic study, then the raw data was (or should have been) typified (anonymized). Therefore it would not be useful for identifying real world "friends" responsible for "profit-threatening behavior". Rather, it would be a group analysis tool.

Except that there has been at least one Slashdot story in the past year or so explaining how supposedly "anonymized" data can be associated with real people, or at least different accounts on websites associated with each other.

And if anonymized accounts can be associated with each other, it's quite possible- if not probable- that they could be associated with one or more non-anonymized accounts- even if that particular account was used for some innocuous purpose- destroying the anonymity of them *all*.

Of course, you couldn't do this by hand; but that's what computers are for- data processing is a great way to spot patterns and guess which accounts might be the same person. The more advanced data mining software gets, the easier it becomes to have it automatically associate different accounts via patterns and trends.

(Of course, in some cases, it's not even that hard- searching for names- ego-surfing or looking up friends and family- is a big clue if not complete giveaway to anyone looking at (e.g.) a Google search history, if that info hasn't been anonymized as well).

Even if the websites were unwilling to share account info with each other, I suspect that one could write a screen-scraper for information and posts on the most popular sites, and group all the public info associated with a particular account anyway- which is probably enough.

To reiterate the point above- if you have a large number of anonymous or anonymised accounts that you reckon are associated with each other, you only need to make a connection between *one* of them and some non-anonymous source for anonymity to be blown on all of them.

And even if you were to take more care from now on, there's probably a mass of info you've left out there already, and it won't all go away in a hurry, if at all. And even if today's data mining wasn't powerful enough to tie it all together, it's quite plausible that it could improve significantly in the near future, changing its nature completely.

Things are changing all the time- this story being just one demonstration. Assuming you'll be safe because you're using anonymous or anonymised accounts gives a very dangerous sense of false security.

Re:Academic ethics at work? (1)

dezgot (1176679) | more than 5 years ago | (#28913743)

I feel inclined to note that this is not a "UMD" (University of Maryland) professor, but a UMBC (UM, Baltimore County) professor. UMBC is not a satellite campus of UMD.

Threats to Profit! (2, Insightful)

jhhl (513935) | more than 5 years ago | (#28911663)

NSA: we snoop to find terrorist threatS (and whatever else we run into)
IBM: We snoop to find profit threats (and whatever else we run into)

Re:Threats to Profit! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28911759)

Ferengi rule of acquisition # 194:

It's always good business to know about new customers before they walk in the door.

phone-churn terrorism? (5, Insightful)

Trepidity (597) | more than 5 years ago | (#28911665)

This sort of data-mining of quasi-private data to spot anomalous behavior is sometimes referred to as "terrorism informatics" [amazon.com] , since lots of the funding for it and interest in it comes from the case where anomalous=terrorist. Not sure it's going to be good for society to be applying the same sorts of intrusive analysis to legal things that are merely bad for business.

Of course, it's a tricky regulatory issue. On the one hand you might say that a business should be able to analyze its internal data however it wants. But on the other hand, most people view the phone companies as infrastructure, and people don't expect them to be analyzing their calls--- just providing them with service at the stated rates. And since they form a oligopoly of sorts with very high barriers to entry, it's not clear that "just don't do business with the shady ones" is a feasible solution.

snail mail (1)

BSAtHome (455370) | more than 5 years ago | (#28911673)

Well, back to snail mail then. AC proof using gloves and cleanroom techniques. Unless all mailboxes come with mandatory cameras these days. But then again, just ask the neighbour to put the envelope in.

Re:snail mail (1)

Z00L00K (682162) | more than 5 years ago | (#28911793)

Just wear a black mask and black dress and do it at night to be sure.

There is no law against being clad as a ninja yet. (as long as you leave the weapons at home)

Re:snail mail (1)

Sulphur (1548251) | more than 5 years ago | (#28911949)

The mask would be illegal in Louisiana.

Re:snail mail (2, Funny)

davester666 (731373) | more than 5 years ago | (#28912009)

Yes. In Louisiana, you must wear a white hood when you are out at night...

Re:snail mail (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28912035)

The mask would be illegal in Louisiana.

Is Halloween illegal in Louisiana too? Or do you not have postal drop boxes on street corners?

Re:snail mail (0)

Z00L00K (682162) | more than 5 years ago | (#28914535)

So it's illegal to wear a Burqa in Louisiana then.

Just wear a rubber mask of George W Bush or Reagan then... Put some small stones in one shoe to give yourself a limp and you are all set.

Re:snail mail (2, Interesting)

nbauman (624611) | more than 5 years ago | (#28912145)

Unless all mailboxes come with mandatory cameras these days.

U.S. post offices have security cameras these days. You can't mail anything that weighs >15 ounces without getting photographed, whether you know it or not.

A woman who worked for the Republican Party had an attack of conscience and mailed some documents to the Democrats, in an Express Mail envelope. She was prosecuted for theft, and part of the evidence was the Post Office security cameras. (Although I can't understand why she used Express Mail, where you have to fill out a return address and get a receipt.)

Call detail mining old hat (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28911679)

What's the big deal? A&T has long mined call detail records for marketing and fraud detection purposes. See, for example, papers on "Giga-Mining" [psu.edu] and "Communities of Interest" [psu.edu] .

Communities of Interest (1)

sakielnorn (946716) | more than 5 years ago | (#28911693)

These are well-known techniques in the telephony world. AT&T has been using this for many years to combat telecom fraud; knowing who you call means that if you don't pay your bill but another phone number starts calling people in your circle of friends, they can identify that it's you making those calls. Communities of interest have also been examined in the context of IP networks [isoc.org] and email [patrickmcdaniel.org] . It's an interesting field of research and this seems like a novel analysis, though I'm sure they are doing something very similar within every carrier network.

Profiles (1, Insightful)

Wowsers (1151731) | more than 5 years ago | (#28911707)

Did people learn nothing from the last time IBM helped "profile" people.... in 1939-45?

Re:Profiles (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28911753)

Usually claims like these on /. come with some sort of link so the readers can follow through with the interesting tid-bit of information on their own. You shouldn't expect that everyone's going to know what you're referring to.

Re:Profiles (1)

santax (1541065) | more than 5 years ago | (#28911775)

Have you actually spend the time reading IBM and the holocaust? It's an eye-opener. Without IBM the germans would not have been have as effective in killing jews. It's a long time ago and IBM is not the IBM they were at that time... but still... this is just wrong.

Re:Profiles (1)

hobbit (5915) | more than 5 years ago | (#28911911)

Why on earth would you reply to the post you did without including a link? Are you trying to discredit your own point?

Re:Profiles (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28914289)

you slate IBM yet doing good business in the USA today are a whole slew of companies who did not support the Allies (yes folks, the USA didn't win WW2 on its own) in the war effort.
I'd suggest you look at how many German & Japanese items you use in daily life.

Oh, and the USA is not innocent here. There were many (including Churchill) who had doubts that the USA would enter the war at all and there was some intense lobbying for the US to come in on the side of Germany. Naturally, that all ended with Pearl Harbour.

Personally, I don't have a problem with IBM, BMW, Mitsubishi etc today. The world is a different place to what it was in the 1930's.

IBM suggests its SNA . . . (1)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | more than 5 years ago | (#28911711)

. . . I hit a Non-maskable interrupt right there.

The only down side, is that it requires everyone to use LU 6.2 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LU_6.2 [wikipedia.org]

. . . has anyone seen a IBM 3745 in action recently . . . ?

nothing new (1)

FudRucker (866063) | more than 5 years ago | (#28911733)

i been making excuses to hang up on people that waste my $airtime$ for years

AI (1)

kylemonger (686302) | more than 5 years ago | (#28911747)

You want to know what weakly superhuman AI looks like? It's here. We call them major corporations. We need to shoot these things in the head while there's still time.

Re:AI (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28913109)

Ah, if only it wasn an option. They already co-opted Govt.

Pretty soon, things will look like an imitation of "The President's Analyst".

so much for traditional telco privacy of metadata (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28911755)

See Matt Blaze's post The Metadata is the Message [crypto.com] which gives a phone company placard saying among other things: Secrecy of communicatins is a basic requirement and important company policy. It includes divulging neither the conversation nor the fact that a call was made between two telephones.

The current dotcom culture towards privacy seems to be that anything not nailed down is theres. Screw 'em. We need completely anonymized peer to peer communication.

Maybe it can do some good (1)

timpdx (1473923) | more than 5 years ago | (#28911815)

to analyze who the f*ck keeps calling me on my do not call listed cell offering crappy cheapo health care. A few months ago it was auto warranties. Hope this can track down the various unlisted/spoofed numbers I get these calls from.

Re:Maybe it can do some good (1)

JWSmythe (446288) | more than 5 years ago | (#28912103)

    Since they keep calling, and you keep telling them to go away, you've maintained a call for at least a few seconds. They are therefore your friends in the IBM database. :)

    Ahhh, guilt by association is a wonderful thing. You'd be amazed at how many things I'd be guilty of. Oh wait, it'll become public information pretty soon when the IBM lists get leaked.

    I'd trust the NSA to not accidentally leak the lists. IBM has offshored just about all of their work to countries that will work for pennies. It's just a matter of time before we get the more interesting version of "six degrees of separation", backed up by phone logs. :)

Osama here (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28912421)

So, what you seem to be saying is, to prevent my operatives inside the US from being uncovered, I should start using more than 6 layers of seperation between my active people, right? How does 36 sound? Which would mean, my message originates in Pakistan, then it gets relayed through - - - - holeeee - I mean, Allah Akbar, my phone bills are gonna go through the roof!

Re:Osama here (1)

JWSmythe (446288) | more than 5 years ago | (#28912591)

    I know I shouldn't even bother, but....

    They're associating calls together to determine relationships.

    The 6 degrees game will just be entertaining. And maybe I'll know which friends to pass messages through so I can get a direct contact with Jennifer Love Hewitt. :)

UMD? (1)

hardie (716254) | more than 5 years ago | (#28911859)

University of Mass Destruction

How the mighty have fallen (3, Interesting)

weeboo0104 (644849) | more than 5 years ago | (#28911871)

As a former IBM employee, I am disappointed to see the company that gave us some of the best typewriters in the world, the mainframe and the Personal Computer, producing this sort of drek after slashing jobs in the US.

I guess it was a matter of time before "IBM India Research Lab" produced something like this. They certainly haven't been producing any real business machines or providing decent customer service to IBM Global Services customers.

Look for more of the same from IBM. IBMs CEO Sam Palmisano has said repeatedly in the past year that IBM will be focusing more on "analytics".

Re:How the mighty have fallen (2, Insightful)

v1x (528604) | more than 5 years ago | (#28912237)

I guess it was a matter of time before "IBM India Research Lab" produced something like this. They certainly haven't been producing any real business machines or providing decent customer service to IBM Global Services customers.

I fail to understand the rationale (if there is one) behind how the geographic location of a research project might make a difference, but even so, it would appear that the corresponding author in the manuscript is from 'University of Maryland, Baltimore County.' Apart from the above statement, I also do not understand the wisdom behind expecting 'customer service' from a 'Research Lab,' simply because it is located in India--apparently IBM has research labs in many other parts of the world, but there isn't an unspoken expectation of 'customer service' from research labs anywhere else in the world.

Re:How the mighty have fallen (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28912651)

I'm hoping that either IBM will come back to its senses (remember HP in the Carly days? tech companies can sink very low and recover), or that it will toss the sensible business to someone else who can apply correct leadership before it gets killed.

IBM is still full of plenty of talent, though I agree that the current leadership seems at times looking the wrong directions (focusing development effort on markets that IBM does well in primarily because other companies are intentionally leaving it behind as dead-end, in many cases trying to impose their vision of the future onto the market to the point of blindly neglecting the obvious requests). The technical core is still there and still producing quality product.

Re:How the mighty have fallen (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28914573)

No wonder IBM fired you - your knowledge level is shown by the fact that you think that researchers are supposed to provide customer service!
I bet all people in that lab have a much better resume than yours!

Owning personal Information (5, Insightful)

TomRC (231027) | more than 5 years ago | (#28911879)

Years ago, when I (and others) pushed the idea that personal information generated as one goes about one's life should be considered private property, this is the sort of thing I expected. We should have always owned the copyright on all information generated by living our lives - "I am the author of my own history", and derivative works like IBM's should be a copyright violation.

Now it's too late - the corporations own your personal life log, and they can do whatever they want with it so long as they don't tell anyone else "personally identifying information". They can even, in some cases, deny you the right to see what they know about you, and they certainly have no requirement to actively inform you about what they're tracking about you.

The relationship should have always been the other way around - "I'm letting you use THIS specific information you gather about me for THESE purposes - anything else you want to collect or do with data I've allowed you to collect, you have to ask, same as with any other private property." Someday, some corporation will overstep somehow, and people will get angry enough to force some change.

Re:Owning personal Information (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28912471)

And the worst part is that even though our predictions are coming true left and right, .. People still think we're paranoid to worry about it.

Re:Owning personal Information (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28913357)

It's not at all too late. And it won't be too late until humanity is extinct. Until then there is hope and time for change. The questions are: When will it change? How will it change? Why will it change? And who will change it?

Re:Owning personal Information (3, Insightful)

Trepidity (597) | more than 5 years ago | (#28913621)

I think we (as a society) still haven't worked out what we want to do about this as the problems become more apparent. I wouldn't call the ownership-of-information view as dead as you seem to think it is. If anything, it has considerable support among moderate conservatives or libertarians who agree that we need to do something about privacy and large aggregate databases of personal information, but are wary of more centralized, paternalist solutions based solely around regulation. If you have that combination of traits---want something done, but want it not to be paternalist---a property right in personal information is an attractive idea. It's a few years old now, but this book [amazon.com] has a good concise overview (pp. 76-79; might be able to get enough of an excerpt on Google Books if you're lucky) of a bunch of the proposals.

An interesting variant are those that revolve around the idea of default implied contracts. The way that in normal contract law, there are all sorts of implied things for what happens if the contract doesn't explicitly specify terms governing a particular situation, some of the proposals would have default terms include some sensible governance for ownership and use of private information, and require deviation from those to actually be agreed by both sides (this might require broader EULA reform, though, to make sure people really do know what they're agreeing to).

To be fair, the book also (pp. 81-92) has a decent summary of problems and criticisms of these proposals. Some are from people who'd love to aggregate huge databases of information and use it without any restraints, but there are a number from well-meaning people too. The problem is that the property rights are really the means, not the end--- it's not that we think having property rights in information is an inherent ethical good, but that we want to avoid some sort of dystopian surveillance society, and having property rights in your personal information is one possible proposal for how to avoid that. But designing markets is tricky, and subject to unintended consequences and loopholes, or just failing to really produce what we'd like them to produce.

So whu didn't you post as AC (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28914343)

if you were so concerned about your 'web history'?

"Profit-threatening" (1)

Landshark17 (807664) | more than 5 years ago | (#28911897)

I like the bit about identifying "profit-threatening" behavior. How long before telcos use this to identify your friends and come up with cheap excuses why you can't choose those numbers for the "circle of friends" free calls so many of them offer. Not that talk-time matters much, most people that I know that are my age (22) use their phones for text messages more than for calling anyway. It's been at least two years since I used my phone to call more than I did to text. Not that I think it would require too much tweaking to analyze text message traffic.

Counterpoint (1)

voss (52565) | more than 5 years ago | (#28912509)

A phone company might actually use this data for consumer friendly purposes such as offering increased incentives for
the other members of the social network to stay such as any-network calling circles and lowering rates. The competitor
might offer "Bring your friends" deals to the switcher. It would be idiotic for a telco to not allow you to have your friends number.

Re:Counterpoint (1)

kent_eh (543303) | more than 5 years ago | (#28912743)

A phone company might actually use this data for consumer friendly purposes

Given your observations of corporate behavior in recent years, how likely do you really think that is?

Re:Counterpoint (1)

BlueStrat (756137) | more than 5 years ago | (#28912953)

A phone company might actually use this data for consumer friendly purposes such as offering increased incentives for
the other members of the social network to stay such as any-network calling circles and lowering rates. The competitor
might offer "Bring your friends" deals to the switcher. It would be idiotic for a telco to not allow you to have your friends number.

More likely IMHO would be them refusing to offer you anything but a long-term, locked-down, hard-to-leave contract based on the fact that you talk to people who have switched carriers often.

Strat

Re:"Profit-threatening" (1)

Junta (36770) | more than 5 years ago | (#28912579)

I confess to being unable to guess productive things a company can do with its data.

The forbidding of 'circle of friends' calling seems useless, it's not like the carriers did that and would have been shocked that, amazingly, people choose numbers they frequently call when given the option of selecting favorite numbers for more talk time. Giving the feature, then restricting it based on your calling patterns just makes it stupid and counter-productive than never having the feature at all. Of course, carriers have done stupider things (charging a fee for having a discount, etc). Besides, they don't need complex analytics like described above to do this, sorting your calling targets is trivial. This isn't that much less trivial, but it is correlating the data with other data rather than sorting a single class of data.

I take at face value the declared purpose, of finding groups of people jumping ship en masse to focus retention efforts on people in high-risk groups, but I don't see what realistic action can be taken there. If they give large incentives, the whole customer base will become very aware of the opportunity and demand similar concessions. If they refuse, then they'll just worsen retention. If they accept for everyone, it was pointless to bother in the first place. I guess what I'm trying to say is that instead of trying to be sneaky, 'strategic', and trying to get at people leaving on the way out, perhaps enriching the general experience would be a better strategic choice.

Of course, of the 4 major US carriers, two seem to be the sort keenly interested in this (keeping people from flowing out as they try to gouge their customers in various ways to extract every cent of revenue out of their larger market shares), while the other two seem desperate enough to deliver better pricing and plans (though all four avoid reasonable tethering like a plague, making none of the major carriers seem 'good').

nazi (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28911917)

That tech sounds a lot like "nazi".
By the way, five years ago HP investigators wrote a paper about analyzing "betweenness" from mails between their employees.

yawn (1)

margaret (79092) | more than 5 years ago | (#28911975)

That guy from Numbers does this almost every week.

Re:yawn (1)

tbird81 (946205) | more than 5 years ago | (#28912367)

Yeah, but no-one watches Numbers.

My friends? Churners? (1)

filesiteguy (695431) | more than 5 years ago | (#28912033)

I don't know about the majority of /. people, but I know that none of my friends spend much time churning milk into butter.

Switching networks? Dunno.

Research paper.. what's the problem.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28912161)

Systems oriented research will always try to test their algorithms on 'real' world data. This is a part of an research. Nothing wrong in using telecomm or whatever data for research. The issue of any regulatory or privacy issues only come in to play when any of such data is used in the real world by a company. When that occurs then it is a topic on /. For now let researchers and research papers remain in academia or research labs and lets not get paranoid for nothing

Midas touch (1)

pubwvj (1045960) | more than 5 years ago | (#28912219)

Good reason not to use anything they touch.

Ha! (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28912339)

Good luck IBM, I don't HAVE any friends!

Re:Ha! (1)

mevets (322601) | more than 5 years ago | (#28912829)

I don't think IBM has any either; and they won't be happy until nobody does.

Better idea: identify frenemies! (1)

straponego (521991) | more than 5 years ago | (#28912467)

They could probably get a pretty good idea of who betrays confidences, gossips, etc. A lot of people would pay for that service-- really, even an "Ear Burning" notification when your name comes up in voice or text conversations. Google could deploy that by Tuesday if they wanted.

Oh, but I guess there are still a few of us who would see a downside to that.

Profit Threatening is not a crime (yet).

Re:Better idea: identify frenemies! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28913963)

Actually, the anti-terror legislation I protested in Canada a few years ago can be construed that way.

One of the definitions of terrorism was any activity designed to cause an economic loss for an organization. At the time I assumed only boycotts could be twisted that far.

BT did something like this years ago... (1)

Gordonjcp (186804) | more than 5 years ago | (#28912665)

... but they used the automatically-generated list of friends to give you a discount on calling those numbers. Great for bulletin boards.

so we all need random autodialers now? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28913957)

So what's the fix for this?

Anonymous phone forwarding?

Or just give up on voice altogether until it's all anonymous packets?

Who gave out the data? (2, Interesting)

mstrcat (517519) | more than 5 years ago | (#28914135)

I'd be interested to know what telecom gave the researchers the data. If I'd been a customer of that company, I sure wouldn't any longer. I think I'll switch cell phone companies and phone numbers, just to become part of the churners.
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