What Does It Look Like When Google Hands Your Email Data Over To The Government?

Image courtesy of (adam reker)

When Google looks at your email data, some might picture a scenario out of a romantic comedy starring Drew Barrymore and Hugh Grantjackman. You know, a bunch of employees hovered around a computer screen, laughing and pointing: “Oh god, she emailed him again two minutes later? And she promised she wasn’t crazy? This is good stuff.”  The reality is a lot less juicy, but still worth knowing about.

If the government requests your e-mail records for use in a law-enforcement investigation, it’s likely not looking to see how often you email your mother or how many unsent drafts of a “let’s get back together” email you are never going to send to your ex.

Instead, the National Journal (via Quartz) says we can get a look at the kind of metadata Google includes when handing over your info using the Immersion tool from Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab.

Immersion takes all of the e-mails of senders and recipients in your account — the metadata info Google would give to the government during an investigation — and shows the patterns in your digital relationships as a neat looking interactive graphic.

It looks like a pretty little web of brightly colored dots and blobs, with the dots and blobs representing email contacts and gray lines between them showing the connections between people you email. If the blob is especially large, that contact plays a big role in how you email and go about your digital life. Here’s a sample from Immersion’s fake demo for the fictional Tony Stark:


If you’re comfortable handing over your e-mail metadata, Immersion will chew up and spit out your own nifty chart, breaking down data by year, month, a week — however you want to see it. Afterward, you can tell the program to erase your info from MIT’s servers.

As long as the government isn’t giggling over my Cheese Lovers Anonymous weekly newsletter, I’m relieved.

A Hypnotic Visualization of Everything Gmail Knows About You and Your Friends [National Journal]

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