Social‐network analysis is
|“||the extraction of information from a variety of interconnecting units under the assumption that their relationships are important and that the units do not behave autonomously.||”|
Social networks often emerge in an online context. The most obvious examples are dedicated online social media platforms, such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, which provide new access to social interaction by allowing users to connect directly with each other over the Internet to communicate and share information. Offline human social networks may also leave analyzable digital traces, such as in phone‐call metadata records that record which phones have exchanged calls or texts, and for how long. Analysis of social networks is increasingly enabled by the rising collection of digital data that links people together, especially when it is correlated to other data or metadata about the individual. Tools for such analysis are being developed and made available, motivated in part by the growing amount of social network content accessible through open application-programming interfaces to online social‐media platforms.
Social‐network analysis is yielding results that may surprise people. In particular, unique identification of an individual is easier than from database analysis alone. Moreover, it is achieved through more diverse kinds of data than many people may understand, contributing to the erosion of anonymity. The structure of an individual's network is unique and itself serves as an identifier; co‐occurrence in time and space is a significant means of identification; and different kinds of data can be combined to foster identification.
Social‐network analysis is used in criminal forensic investigations to understand the links, means, and motives of those who may have committed crimes. In particular, social‐network analysis has been used to better understand covert terrorist networks, whose dynamics may be different from those of overt networks.
- "Overview" section: Big Data and Privacy: A Technological Perspective, at 28-29 (footnotes omitted).