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An MIT Project That Lets You Spy On Yourself

This is my (Gmail) life.
This is my (Gmail) life.

Of all the stuff on metadata I've seen in the past few weeks, this is my favorite:

It's my favorite in large part because it's my metadata. It comes from my Gmail account. The relationships it maps are, more or less, my life — orange circles for Planet Money, purple for Brooklyn, brown for college. The big red circle that gets cut off at the bottom of the screengrab is my mom.

The picture shows just how revealing metadata can be. Without knowing anything about the content of my emails, you can paint a pretty complete picture of my personal and professional universe.

I didn't make this picture, or choose the colors, or create categories, or anything. I just went to immersion.media.mit.edu and gave the site permission to access my Gmail account and map my metadata. You can do it, too. It's fun and kind of creepy. It's like being your own Big Brother.

The project, called Immersion, was created by a few guys at the MIT Media Lab. It went live yesterday, according to the Boston Globe.

"When you see it all together, it is, in a way, an out-of-body experience," one of the creators of the project told the Globe. "You're seeing all of your network and you're seeing yourself out of it and you're seeing it from afar and you're seeing it in one picture."

Update #2: The site is back up.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jacob Goldstein is an NPR correspondent and co-host of the Planet Money podcast. He is the author of the book Money: The True Story of a Made-Up Thing.