From The Guardian:
Taos, New Mexico, autumn 2012. At 18, Tina Porter has been on Facebook for four years. Duly briefed by her parents, a teacher and a therapist, she takes great care not to put contents – remarks on her wall, photos, videos – that could expose her in a unwanted manner.
Still. Spending about 30 hours a month on the social network, she has become as transparent as a looking glass. It will impact the cost of her health insurance, her ability to get a loan and to find a job.
Denver, Colorado, spring 2018. Tina is now 24. She’s finishing her law degree at Colorado State University. She’s gone through a lot: experimenting with substances, been pulled over for speeding a couple of times, relying on pills to regain some sleep after being dumped by her boyfriend. While Tina had her share of downs, she also has her ups. Living in Denver she never missed an opportunity to go hiking, mountain biking, or skiing – except when she had to spend 48 gruesome hours in the dark, alone with a severe migraine. But she remains fit, and she likes to record her sports performances on health sites – all connected to Facebook – and compare with friends.
Seattle, winter 2020. In a meeting room overlooking the foggy Puget Sound, Alan Parsons, head of human resources at the Wilson, McKenzie & Whitman law firm holds his monthly review of the next important hires. Parsons is with Marcus Chen, a senior associate at Narrative Data Inc; both are poring over a selection of CVs. Narrative Data was created in 2015 by a group of MIT graduates. Still headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the startup now helps hundreds of corporations pick the right talent.
Narrative Data doesn’t track core competencies. The firm is more into character and personality analysis; it assesses ability to sustain stress, to make the right decision under pressure. To achieve this, Narrative Data is staffed with linguists, mathematicians, statisticians, psychologists, sociologists, neuroscientists. What they basically do is data-mining the social internet: blogs, forums, Twitter, and of course Facebook. Over the years, they’ve drawn a map of behaviours, based on language people use. Thanks to Narrative Data’s algorithm, everyone aged above 20 can have his or her life unfolded like a gigantic electronic papyrus scroll. HR people and recruiters love it. So do insurance companies and banks.
Of course, in 2015 no one will be dumb enough to write on his Facebook wall something like “Gee, bad week ahead, I’m heading to my third chemotherapy session”. But Narrative Data is able to pinpoint anyone’s health problems by weaving together language patterns. For instance, it pores over health forums where people talk, openly but anonymously, about their conditions. By analysing millions of words, Narrative Data has mapped what it calls Health Clusters, data aggregates that provide remarkable accuracy in revealing health conditions. The Cambridge company is even working on a black program able to “de-anonymise” health forum members thanks to language patterns cross-matching with Facebook pages. But the project raises too many privacy issues do be rolled out – yet.
Continue reading the rest of the story on The Guardian