Select your localized edition:

Close ×

More Ways to Connect

Discover one of our 28 local entrepreneurial communities »

Be the first to know as we launch in new countries and markets around the globe.

Interested in bringing MIT Technology Review to your local market?

MIT Technology ReviewMIT Technology Review - logo


Unsupported browser: Your browser does not meet modern web standards. See how it scores »

{ action.text }

A subject’s social network data can be mined in a variety of ways. On Twitter and Facebook, he says, it’s not uncommon to find spouses openly discussing affairs, or revealing that they’re not where they’re supposed to be. “They’re putting it out there just like they’re putting out a product,” he says.

Even if a subject is cautious, there are other ways to get useful information. Foursquare, for example, keeps posts limited to friends, but many people connect their Foursquare feed to Twitter, which is public. Investigators can also view an estranged spouse’s Facebook wall via a mutual friend’s account.

Rudewicz says he has found hidden assets by searching for a subject’s phone number on Craigslist, revealing, for example, posts in which the subject was trying to sell valuable antiques. Search engines designed specifically for Twitter or blogs can often yield valuable data as well, he adds.

It can be difficult for estranged spouses to protect their information. Questions of etiquette may interfere with the instinct to keep data private by defriending a spouse, says Ilana Gershon, assistant professor in the department of communication and culture at Indiana University and the author of the book The Break-Up 2.0: Disconnecting over New Media.

Gershon adds, “Even if they defriended each other, they often had friends who were still Facebook friends with their ex continue to check on their ex-spouses’ profiles for them. Their friends would let them know what changes their ex was willing to record on Facebook.” Gershon has found that there was a tendency not to remove an ex’s friends or family, because of worries that the action would seem hostile.  

It would be dangerous to rely entirely on information extracted from social networking updates, says Danah Boyd, a senior researcher at Microsoft Research. “Communications acts are contextual, and it’s pretty easy to misinterpret what’s happening,” Boyd says. “This will be a new challenge for family court judges, but it’s not clear yet how it will all play out.”

Whatever the legal implications, it’s easy to reveal far more than intended through social sites—and to leave the record there for all to see. In terms of keeping information private, Rudewicz says, “The mob had it right—the only way they communicated was verbally, in the middle of the street.”

11 comments. Share your thoughts »

Credit: Technology Review

Tagged: Web, Facebook, Twitter, social networking, social media, anthropology

Reprints and Permissions | Send feedback to the editor

From the Archives


Introducing MIT Technology Review Insider.

Already a Magazine subscriber?

You're automatically an Insider. It's easy to activate or upgrade your account.

Activate Your Account

Become an Insider

It's the new way to subscribe. Get even more of the tech news, research, and discoveries you crave.

Sign Up

Learn More

Find out why MIT Technology Review Insider is for you and explore your options.

Show Me