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Researchers use NSA’s own tactics to see how invasive NSA spying is

Published Nov 30th, 2013 10:00AM EST
Stanford NSA app

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Stanford researchers are trying to act like the NSA in order to learn about the NSA. Researchers Jonathan Mayer and Patrick Mutchler created MetaPhone, an Android app which collects a phone’s metadata and compares it to basic information on Facebook. After learning that the NSA collects phone metadata from Verizon such as calling and texting logs, the researchers wanted to test how revealing this metadata is. “Some defenders of the NSA’s bulk collection programs have taken the position that metadata is not revealing,” Jonathan Mayer told MIT Technology Review. “We want to provide empirical evidence on the issue.… Our hypothesis is that phone metadata is packed with meaning.”

MetaPhone, which is free to download from the Google Play store, acts similarly to the NSA: it collects calling and texting logs, and asks for basic information from Facebook. The researchers then see what they can learn from the metadata and compare it to the Facebook data.

Early evidence from the project suggests that the metadata is indeed revealing; for example, preliminary results show that phone metadata can fairly accurately predict whether someone is in a relationship with 60% accuracy.