Spy Gains

Using "social graphs" to predict trends, quell disasters and more

Edward Snowden's revelations about government snooping may have given Big Data a bad rap, but the methods the U.S. government uses to parse phone records for possible terrorist connections--officially known as social-network analysis, which is the study of how people interact with one another--are producing remarkable innovations in other sectors. Thanks to the proliferation of relationship-based data (on Facebook alone, there are at least 140 billion recorded friendships), network analysts are learning to predict flu pandemics, voting patterns and much more. "We've shown [that social data] has enormous power," says MIT's Sandy Pentland, an industry pioneer. "The question is, How is...

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