Cubmail Falls Prey to Snooping Sociologists

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A writer at the Brown Daily Herald has alerted the Columbia College Student Council that, for a year between 2003-2004, CUIT sold our emails to Columbia panopticists, er, sociologists, Gueorgi Kossinets and Duncan Watts for this Science article. The study, which discusses the formation and evolution of social networks, did not name the “large university” whose electronic communications were analyzed. Two weeks later, tech gazette eWEEK.com decided to state the obvious in a January 20th post. ‘Twas us who was snooped!

In the name of science, Columbia University behavioral scientists recently dissected every e-mail sent by every Columbia student for a year.

During the year it took to procure the e-mail and the ensuing months of research on the 14 million or so missives, the 43,000 correspondents never knew they were the subjects of such a grand experiment.

The Bwog supports the “advancement of science” and understands that gains in knowledge often require sacrifices. But we would like to remind the Columbia Institutional Review Board that next time they enlist us in one of their little “experiments,” we’d like our $10, thank you very much.

After all, uncompensated exploitation was precisely why the Bwog dropped her psychology major.

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  1. Concerned

    I really freaked out when I first read that but this makes it less scary- All the names and other identifying information had been removed from the e-mails, along with the contents of the mail and their subject headers. What remained was the time stamp and dates when the messages were sent and received, and the dates of any replies and the names of the people who wrote them.

    In place of the personal data was what Watts described as "self-consistent but otherwise meaningless labels" that allowed him to look for patterns.

    "We can see that person A sent an e-mail to person B at time T, and that A and B were enrolled in class X at the time, but not who A and B were, or what the class was."

    Still, someone should have asked us before they root through our emails.

  2. M.R.

    Yeah so this is clearly not a big deal. They tracked e-mail traffic patterns using non-identifiable tags to follow individual threads of correspondence.

    I mean in principle the students should have known, but what wouldve been the appropriate way of saying (Hi, we're gonna check your email usage pattern based on time and date, thanks.)

    Besides Duncan Watts is cool in my book. He proved that there actually are 6 degrees of seperation between people in the world! http://www.smallworld.columbia.edu/

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