Your emails say a lot about you. That’s the focus of a recent MIT project called Immersion, which analyzes your email metadata and visualizes it to create a detailed picture of your relationships and emailing habits.
Email metadata includes things like who you’re sending messages to, how often, what’s in the subject lines, and who else is CC’d. Contrast metadata with email content, which is the actual text of your emails themselves. Metadata may not sound like much, but when analyzed over the lifespan of an email account and thousands of messages, it can be very revealing.
For example, I analyzed my 2.5 year-old Abine email account with Immersion. Looking at the chart below, it’s immediately clear who the people I talk to most are…and who they talk to most:
It’s not much of a leap to assume that the people I talk to most are also the most important to my work.
I also got some overall stats, showing that I’ve sent almost 50,000 emails to about 430 people:
I also had Immersion analyze my personal email account, which I’ve had for over 6 years:
I was amazed to see how closely each colored group represented the people in a different an area of my life. Green are my friends from high school and college (I’m lucky that they all became friends themselves, so the connection shows that they all email each other). Red are my law school friends. Blue are my family members.
Again, all this is visible from “simple” email metadata, info that the NSA has easy access to. The next time that someone tells you that you shouldn’t care that the NSA is spying on you because they “only get metadata,” you can show them Immersion. Metadata matters.
If you want stronger privacy for your email, check out VanishingRights.com, which is pushing to ramp up out-of-date privacy laws (specifically the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, or ECPA). You can also use a disposable email service like MaskMe to help blur the metadata picture that emerges from your email records.