Okay, so I’ve finally buckled to peer pressure and gotten myself a twitter account that, in all likelihood, I will probably never use. However, when I signed up something very weird and inexplicable happened and I can’t figure it out.
This situation is this: I have a friend called Bob. He has a brother called Steve and a sister called Mary. Steve also has a girlfriend called Alice. I don’t know Steve very well, and I barely know Mary or Alice at all. Furthermore, I’m not connected to Bob through any kind of social media. Bob isn’t on Facebook, twitter, or anything else.
Also, when I signed up to twitter I figured I would be getting a lot of bullshit alerts and I didn’t want them clogging up my inbox so I made a brand new e-mail account and signed up with that. None of the above mentioned people are in my address book for that e-mail address.
The really weird thing is that somehow, twitter knows that I am acquainted with Mary and Alice. The very first thing twitter did was recommend me a bunch of twitter accounts that it thought I might like and it recommended, among others, Mary and Alice’s accounts.
How the hell did it do that? I haven’t even seen either of them for about five years. None of them, not Bob, Steve, Mary, or Alice are on my Facebook, and even if they were twitter should have no way of knowing because I signed up with a brand new e-mail address that’s completely unconnected with Facebook. I have absolutely no tangible social connections with Mary or Alice, yet somehow twitter knew that I know them.
Twitter recommends people to follow based on who you already follow, and to a degree who they follow too. Say you follow Tim, and he’s following Ben and Marty. Twitter will suggest you follow Ben and Marty too, and you follow Ben. Both Tim and Ben are following Melody, Troy and Wendy, so twitter will recommend you follow them too because it predicts you’ll have interests in similar accounts as to the people you already follow.
This happens regardless of whether or not you know the people in real life by the way, but if you start out by mostly following people you know, and many people do, it’s not very surprising that you’re going to get recommendations for other people you know in real life given how it works.
What is missing here is what information you actually gave to twitter before those recommendations arrived. Did you enter your location? Did you start following a few accounts?
If you did neither of those things, maybe twitter used your IP for a rough location and made recommendations based on that.
Also there are some holes in your logic, unsurprisingly since I assume you’re human. You write: “The very first thing twitter did was recommend me a bunch of twitter accounts that it thought I might like and it recommended, among others, Mary and Alice’s accounts.” and “yet somehow twitter knew that I know them.”
You don’t know that twitter recommended those based on your connection to them. How many people do you think you might know (of) that you’d be similarly surprised to have recommended? How many in total did twitter recommend? What method, other than divination, did twitter use to pick that bunch?
And in addition to that, how many people sign up to twitter each day? Sum all those up and I’d be willing to bet someone else’s million dollars on it being a coincidence.
Not really an answer, but I’ve had this with facebook as well.
I created a facebook account that, for various reasons, I wanted kept separate from my personal life (It’s essentially a business account for a business I’m starting up - I don’t want my current employers knowing about it just yet).
I signed up with a fake-ish name (I used my middle name rather than my first), and an email address that is in no way connected to either my personal email or my work email. I’m friends with nobody on this account (and in fact, I’m only friends with about five people on my ‘main’ fb account), and essentially there is nothing to connect this account with me personally.
However, it has recommended both work colleagues and my ex wife to me as friends, somehow. I’m finding this both creepy and inconvenient - after all, the whole point was to separate this account from me personally.
I’ve been trying to figure out the connection - the only things I can think of, are a) I’ve used the email I signed up with to email my personal account (and vice versa), and b) I’ve logged into both fb accounts from the same PC.
Both options are very worrying, from a privacy point of view.
Twitter, and all the other major social network sites for that matter, use a sophisticated algorithm that involves your contact information, search queries and browsing habits, to determine who you may have connection with. You know that six degrees of separation game? It’s much like that with sites trying to figure out just how close we are with one another.
If you visit a site that uses embedded Twitter widgets, (i.e., any time you see a tweet button), it will deposit a cookie to track you and every little detail you leave across the Twitter ecosystem, much like Google and Facebook does with their widgets. An e-mail address is a big help in determining who you are, but by no means is it the only way. Every piece of information you leave, whether they be something you post or upload voluntarily, or involuntarily by way of digital footsteps, they are all assigned a value to calculate your degree of separation to someone else.
I don’t pretend to know what and how many functions are included in the algorithm, but the only way not to be included in its tracking would be not only for you stop using the internet, but all your friends, family and acquaintances as well because as soon as someone looks you up or searches for you, that information gets stored and connected to you once you have a presence on the internet.
So does that imply that Mary and/or Alice and/or Steve once looked for Doctor_Why_Bother on Twitter, and when he created his new account, Twitter remembered that and recommended them as possible acquaintances?
No, it doesn’t imply that Doctor’s friends searched for him/her on Twitter, just that they might have. And even if they did search for Doctor, it would have had to been recent or often enough for it to get assigned a value.
Another scenario is Twitter knows the dynamics of this group of people through one its member, let’s say Doctor’s friend Bob’s sister Mary, and even before Doctor signed up for Twitter, (even with a brand new e-mail address), Twitter had already tagged him as someone Mary might know through direct and indirect IP addresses, screen names, shared photos, phone numbers, etc.
It’s not one specific action of an individual that registers as being pertinent; it’s the aggregate accumulative actions of a particular subset within a group that registers as them being “connected”.