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What Does Six Months of Meta-Data Look Like? 60

SpicyBrownMustard sends in a fascinating data visualization at Zeit Online showing what information about a person's life can be gleaned from cellphone metadata. Quoting: "Green party politician Malte Spitz sued to have German telecoms giant Deutsche Telekom hand over six months of his phone data that he then made available to ZEIT ONLINE. We combined this geolocation data with information relating to his life as a politician, such as Twitter feeds, blog entries and websites, all of which is all freely available on the internet. By pushing the play button, you will set off on a trip through Malte Spitz's life. The speed controller allows you to adjust how fast you travel, the pause button will let you stop at interesting points. In addition, a calendar at the bottom shows when he was in a particular location and can be used to jump to a specific time period. Each column corresponds to one day."
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What Does Six Months of Meta-Data Look Like?

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  • This is years old (Score:2, Informative)

    by Animats (122034)

    This was years ago. I think it was even on Slashdot.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Yeah, but now we know the NSA has these on all allied politicians. I think it would be interesting to see how theirs compares to zeit's. I'm guessing its more accurate, but has a less html5 compliant interface.

    • by Russ1642 (1087959) on Tuesday July 02, 2013 @03:35PM (#44170123)
      While we're on the subject, who came up with the internet rule that no discussion shall take place more than once? That it's old or that it was discussed years ago doesn't mean it isn't relevant today.
      • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 02, 2013 @03:44PM (#44170183)

        Could you repeat the question please?

      • by Pseudonym Authority (1591027) on Tuesday July 02, 2013 @03:56PM (#44170279)
        Control freak moderators on shitty forums decided that years ago. You are supposed to use the search function to find a thread, but then you cannot post in it, as it is locked for going to long without a bump; you cannot start a new thread without being redirected to the old, and having your new thread locked.

        It's basically a way to be obsessed with rules and wave your dick around. This is good because it shows how long you've been on the site, and proves that you are a valuable contributor (a very important thing for people with low self-esteem).
      • by steelfood (895457) on Tuesday July 02, 2013 @04:08PM (#44170363)

        I think people are just taking the idea of dupes too far. Dupes happen within a short period of time and are a result of sloppy editing.

        This is NOT A DUPE.

        This would be a great link to add to for every discussion on Snowden as a response to people who say that what the NSA is doing is OK because it's only "metadata." Then tell them that's the data they have on them as well, and ask them if they've been to a strip club recently.

        • by Anonymous Coward
          Doing that frames the discussion all wrong. Privacy is not about hiding wrong-doings! If you imply that, then "nothing to hide, nothing to fear" becomes a valid retort and this is an uphill battle that needn't happen [].
        • by Anonymous Coward

          But in that case, at least a new summary should be written that places the old article into the new context.

      • by DragonTHC (208439)

        That's not a rule.

        But rule #41 is a rule.

    • Re:This is years old (Score:5, Informative)

      by Krazy Kanuck (1612777) on Tuesday July 02, 2013 @03:36PM (#44170127)
      Here's the subject from 2011, however i believe the visualizations is the news this time around. []
    • by bfandreas (603438)
      It was years ago. And it was in response to proposed legislation for mandatory telco data retention. The legislation didn't go anywhere due to massive protests.
      Now it turns out that that data still gets stored and will be used after clearance by secret courts. Which actually makes you wonder if western democracy is even skin-deep.

      So yes, Malte's data porn still is relevant. And he also quite recently published an op-ed on the NYT which does a good job explaining why state snooping doesn't fly in Germany.
  • by lasermike026 (528051) on Tuesday July 02, 2013 @03:43PM (#44170171)

    The term "metadata" being used by the politicians is off the bullcrap meter.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      And i've been in tech for quite a long time. Then I realized it just means "All Data"

    • Do you mean submitter SpicyBrown, German politician Malte Spitz, Director of National Intelligence Director James Clapper, or NSA director Gen. Keith Alexander? Or the general media and NSA apologists?

      Because Spitz never used the term. SpicyBrown is probably misusing the term. Clapper doesn't know what the fuck he's talking about. And Alexander is probably spewing bullshit. And I'd give even money that the general media and NSA apologists don't have a clue what metadata entails.

    • Data in this case would be the content of the calls, as in what was said. Metadata is the date, time, location, panel number, frequency, etc.
      • by msauve (701917) on Tuesday July 02, 2013 @04:27PM (#44170507)
        Nope. It's metadata only in very specific reference to phone calls. In every other sense, it's data, pure and simple. It's data in terms of location tracking. If you had tracking information from a GPS, that would be data. If they were tracking you by machine reading license plates, taken from security camera, that would be data. If they followed you around and recorded your location, that would be data. Just because the tracking info comes from a cell provider's records, doesn't make it any less than tracking data.

        When they say they're only collecting "metadata, not the calls themselves," they're being deliberately, disingenuously, misleading.
        • When they say they're only collecting "metadata, not the calls themselves," they're being deliberately, disingenuously, misleading.

          Well, the politicians are lying, but they've managed a rare case of using a buzzword correctly. I know, I'm as shocked as you are. Metadata refers to side-channel data. For example, a video stream may contain information about when it was recorded, the source, bitrate, etc. This is all metadata in that it isn't data needed for the file (or application) to perform its primary function.

          In the case of "meta data" for cell phones, the source, destination, length of call, encoding medium, etc., is all metadata w

          • by msauve (701917)
            I suspect (without seeing the actual data provided), that it includes information associated not only with calls, but SMSs and data usage, perhaps even cell tower registration where there's no user communication. If so, then they're not just collecting "call metadata."
          • by csirac (574795)

            Metadata refers to side-channel data.

            Don't make that assumption. As someone who works on data acquisition/management/processing (not telco) and gets trapped into hours-long discussions on data standards, especially derived data assets where the provenance/curation/modification history (not to mention the inputs, processing parameters, process versions/systems etc.) are just as important as the assets themselves... what is "meta" (or meta-meta, or...) and what isn't - is a huge area of ambiguity. The word "m

        • by oodaloop (1229816)

          Nope. It's metadata only in very specific reference to phone calls.

          Which would be the case here, right? Talking about phone calls and all?

          When they say they're only collecting "metadata, not the calls themselves," they're being deliberately, disingenuously, misleading.

          So by using the appropriate term for that industry, they're being misleading? Metadata of phone calls has huge privacy implications. I get it. In fact, I work in the intelligence community so I know quite a bit about this. And I don't condone or support warrantless wiretapping, violating 4th amendment rights, etc. But don't get bent out of shape because they're using the appropriate term for that industry.

          • by msauve (701917)
            "Which would be the case here, right? Talking about phone calls and all?"

            RTFA. In the case here, the data included information on not only telephone calls, but SMS and data connections.

            linky []
            • by oodaloop (1229816)
              Oh boy. Same thing applies to them too. The data in text messages is the content, what was said. The "data" on data connections is what what downloaded and uploaded. Metadata is the date, time, location, etc. In the intel world, we call it internals and externals. Internals is what was said. Externals is everything else.
              • by msauve (701917)
                You're being disingenuous. What might be metadata about an SMS or data connection, isn't "we only collect metadata on your phone calls."

                The tracking data provide by all of this stands alone - just be honest and admit it. The term "metadata" is not being used with the public in its formal sense, but to hide the fact that a vast amount of personal data is being collected with illegitimate warrants.
                • by oodaloop (1229816)
                  Calling it metadata isn't what's hiding a massive unconstitutional collection of personal information. It's not like the government has been forthcoming on everything except that it used one word you find misleading. It's the appropriate term in this context in this industry. Complaining that you use it slightly differently in your line of work won't change anything.
    • by omnichad (1198475)

      Date/Time of phone calls and SMS is metadata (from that you can establish things like number of calls per day). The contents of the call audio or messages is the data. GPS location is more data than metadata, but the tower you're connected to is again metadata - which appears to be what this uses. Yes, metadata is also data. But how much of it is "metadata" according to the NSA?

    • Can someone give a set definition of each, or is there no "metadata" at all? 'Cause I was under the impression that the bytes transmitting my usage of phone data (my voice when I'm calling, my text when I'm texting, the data for an app I'm downloading) was "data". "Metadata" then, would be which cellphone tower I was receiving the "data" from, the date and time stamp relating to that usage, the GPS location--all things that article was tracking and showing. All things appended to said the data. So, again wh
      • data about data is metadata

        A computer file content is data.
        A file to contain it is metadata.
        A file system to organize files is a another level of metadata.
        • Yeah that's kinda what I was thinking, thanks. msuave [] did a good number on clearing it up with regards to this story, too.
    • by Rob Riggs (6418)

      Metadata: "the field 'originating_phone_number' contains the caller's number."

      Data: 867-5309

      "Jenny" is data. "Customer name" is metadata."

      Let's get it right, folks. People's lives depend on this.

    • by tsa (15680)

      Indeed. I'm surprised that Obama used that term. He should know better.

    • metadata is: this data contains location information.
      data is: he's X years old, just bought some bread and now waits for the bus at location Y

      so you're not completely right, but its still no metadata.

    • by EvilSS (557649)
      True, however trying to correct the terminology at this point will just confuse the issue even more for the vast majority of people. It's better in this case to use their term for it and show how intrusive this "metadata" they are collecting is than trying to argue that their idea of metadata is wrong.
  • This article now ... where was slashdot years ago?

When a fellow says, "It ain't the money but the principle of the thing," it's the money. -- Kim Hubbard