Time to wade back into some political bullshit, and this time it’s because people are making a huge deal out of nothing. I’m referring to the NSA collection of cell phone records, a “scandal” that will be forgotten in a few months, but one which is only a scandal because people don’t understand math.
First, the NSA is only collecting cell phone metadata – number from, number to, duration, time, maybe the cell phone towers and switches, but not the content of the calls. There’s a reason for that, which we’ll get to shortly. This metadata doesn’t tell you too much, but I can understand people being concerned that the gub’mint now knows they dialed a phone sex line…
…except they don’t. Or rather, they do, but it’s so deeply buried that no one really knows. And this is because most people just don’t understand the scale and scope of how large of numbers we’re dealing with here. There’s an estimated 2.4 BILLION cell phone calls placed each day in the US. That means over the course of a year, there’s 876 billion rows of data. Oh my, 876? That’s not that big! Except it is. That’s almost 3000 times the US population! The odds of your call being seen? You’re more likely to be hit by a meteor. Twice. In the same day. While winning the lottery.
All the NSA can see is large scale patterns. It’s like looking at the ocean in Google maps and worrying that someone will see one specific fish. It won’t happen. Not unless they know what fish to look for already.
That’s just how big data works. It’s trending, not specifics. There’s just too much data to possibly make anything personal unless they already know who they are looking for, like a terrorist. It’s not just a needle in a haystack, it’s a needle in a needle factory, surrounded by a needle warehouse, in a county made of needles.