Thursday, 14 June 2012

The dangers of applying SOCMINT too literally

Have I died and gone to Heaven? I felt like asking myself that question today, after reading the Google Alerts that had just been sent to me.

For those not in the know, Google Alerts is a great way of being sent information about specific things. So, a few months ago, I arranged for Google Alerts to alert me each time “Martin Hoskins” was mentioned on the internet. This was not (really) for vanity purposes, but to find out just what would happen. After all, I knew what this Martin Hoskins had been up to, but I didn’t necessarily know what other Martin Hoskins had been doing.

Is this important? Well, for those trawling the internet for various purposes, yes it can be. It’s always nice to know that you are collecting information about the right Martin Hoskins. If you want to dress up the exercise and cloak it with a fancy title, you would probably come up with SOCMINT – the gathering of Social Media Intelligence about someone. The think tank Demos have recently published a paper about it.

So, have I just learnt about Martin Hoskins, then?

First, courtesy of the Telegraph Online, that he had commented yesterday on the Information Commissioner’s Office’s proposals to reopen the Google Street View investigation. Yes, I remembered this – the quote appeared in the on-line version of the publication within hours of my speaking to their (excellent) journalist.

Second, courtesy of the Mail Online, that: “An article on 14 February 2012 incorrectly stated that Martin Hoskins had frozen to death on an overnight fishing trip in sub-zero temperatures. In fact, he died of natural causes. We apologise for this mistaken report and for the consequent distress caused to Mr Hoskins's family.” No, I wasn’t aware of this one. I didn’t know that Martin Hoskins, nor do I think I am related to any of his family.

But, it got me wondering how effective the internet trawls are for snippets of information about anyone in particular. Just how confident are we that the gossip that is being scraped about us really does relate to the correct person? A thought for those corporate HR teams who like to use the internet to scrutinise the moral characteristics of potential employees.

The moral of this tale is pretty obvious – we need to carefully manage our on-line reputations, by making sure that the searcher gets to see what we would like to have said about ourselves. Are we all doing enough for charity? Or for sick animals? Or are we attending enough parties with the Lord Lieutenant of the County?

And if we weren’t before, we might start posting this sort of stuff on our Facebook accounts, pretty soon.


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