Like many others, after FBI Director James Comey revealed yesterday that he has a secret Twitter account, I spent a few minutes trying to find it. I didn’t have any luck, but Ashley Feinberg of Gizmodo seems to have dug it up. I’m not saying that you should go follow Comey’s personal Twitter account, but I think Feinberg’s detective work here is pretty terrific.
Update: Zeynep Tufekci on Facebook:
Let’s break this down because there is more to this — and it is significant. A less understood issue with algorithms and privacy is how computation can suss out things you did not disclose. Feinberg found Comey’s “secret” accounts simply because.. Instagram’s algorithm helpfully suggested that she follow (undisclosed) member’s of Comey’s family once she put in a request to follow his son — who had otherwise locked down his account.
Comey in a 2014 speech at the Brookings Institution:
Some argue that we will still have access to metadata, which includes telephone records and location information from telecommunications carriers. That is true. But metadata doesn’t provide the content of any communication. It’s incomplete information, and even this is difficult to access when time is of the essence. I wish we had time in our work, especially when lives are on the line. We usually don’t.
More from Comey, earlier this month:
Comey said metadata — the who, where, and when of communications but not their content — isn’t very useful to law enforcement.
“This is what I don’t think people realize. Metadata is limited especially in criminal cases and proving beyond reasonable doubt with pedophiles and terrorists,” Comey said, adding metadata isn’t enough because “metadata doesn’t say much.”
The suggestions offered by Instagram are metadata themselves, and are based on metadata. As a direct result of those suggestions, Comey’s private Twitter and Instagram accounts were found.