Monday, July 1, 2013

The NSA Asked Me to Train Them on How to Find Your Information

by Sam Richter

On July 28th, I will be in Philadelphia delivering a customized Know More! program to the NSA on how to find information online, specifically inside information on companies and people. I’m anticipating a packed room and an exceptionally engaged audience.

Although most of the NSA folks are skilled researchers, I’m very confident I will be able to share new tricks, tools, and secrets on how to use search engines, the Invisible Web, social networks, and premium research resources to identify what an individual really cares about. When I’m done, all attendees will understand how to find data and use it to identify patterns, which allows one to paint an accurate picture of what’s going on at a company, and in a person’s life.

I will share real examples on how to find out about an individual’s personal interests, family life, business goals, and personal objectives. I will expose the NSA on how to determine what books a person reads, what movies they like, what restaurants do they enjoy, what pets do they have, what websites do they visit, what online videos do they watch, what music do they appreciate, what religion do they practice, what their children do on the weekends, how do they lean politically, and even where a person is physically located at that very moment. Because knowing information on companies is equally important to the NSA, I will be sharing how to find a company’s business objectives, customer information, new products, new hires, former employees, financial information, credit ratings, competitive threats, organizational charts, and even future directions.

Yes, I know this is pretty scary. If you’re like most, you’re deeply concerned about privacy issues and what I’m going to share probably makes you nervous. Thus I apologize in advance for having to teach the NSA how to access your most personal data.

Yet if those within the NSA are going to do their jobs correctly, to the best of their ability, to serve their constituents, then they need to understand how to gather and use this sort of data. It’s imperative that they understand how to translate data into information; transform information into knowledge; and then act upon that knowledge to achieve core objectives.

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Why is this so important? What do those at the NSA need to know how to access your most personal data?

Because if you were hiring someone from the National Speakers Association, you too would want the presenter to fully understand you and your needs so he or she could prepare a customized program.

What’s going on at the other NSA (the government one) is one of today’s most talked about news stories. Whether you think Edward Snowden is a hero for his whistle-blowing activities or a traitor for exposing what information the United States government is gathering on its citizens, it certainly has brought to light the data-driven world in which we live, and the access to private information that organizations are collecting.

When I first read the story on what Snowden exposed related to the Prism program, my reaction was a simple: “Yeah…and that surprises you?”

I certainly don’t claim to be an expert on the NSA, CIA, FBI, and what government agencies are collecting on virtually all of us. Yet from my understanding of what was being gathered, it’s really no big deal. So the government knows who you call, how often, and when. So the government knows what websites you looked at. So the government knows when you sent an email and to whom. So what?

Basically, the government is collecting this data (and probably more) and throwing the information into a huge database. You’ve probably heard the term “Big Data.” In its simplest form, what that means is a huge collection of disparate data is put into a massive computer server. Then an incredibly powerful algorithmic engine is used (in the NSA’s case, Prism), to sort through that data and identify patterns that would otherwise be impossible to determine.

For example, in a matter of seconds, through Big Data, the other NSA might find a pattern such as: people who call Europe at 3:00 a.m. every Wednesday and Friday, who eat Lucky Charms for breakfast, who ride unicycles on Sunday, who send the most emails on Tuesday afternoon, and who watch Dancing With Friends are six times more likely to be a member of a terrorist group versus someone who does the exact same activities but who instead eats Wheaties.

Frankly, the other NSA is doing EXACTLY what consumer brands and ecommerce companies have been doing for years. Ever shopped at and an advertisement pops up that says something like “people who have bought the book you’re looking at have also enjoyed these books?”  Ever logged into your Facebook account and wonder, “how the heck did the Facebook advertising team know that I’m planning a trip to Belize?” Ever wonder why the direct mail you receive is personal to the restaurants you enjoy, the dry cleaners you could be using, the car you just bought, and the boat you’d like to buy? Welcome to Big Data.

“Okay…so that’s a little creepy—where does this information on me come from?” Great question. And the simple answer is: you put it there.

We live in a digital world. Every time you use your credit card, ATM card, register for anything, visit a website, buy something online, buy something offline, dial your cell phone, send an email, comment on a blog, send a Tweet, watch an online video, post on your Facebook page, sign into Foursquare, play Farmville, use your Xbox, update your LinkedIn profile, send an Instagram photo, post that photo on your Pintrest page, etc., you are sending bits and bytes over the Internet. Because it’s a digital file, those bits and bytes can be accessed, archived, and made searchable—FOREVER.

This is the world in which we live. Unless you choose to live in a cave somewhere (and even then, you still probably have Internet access) there’s really nothing you can do about others accessing your personal information. Even if you don’t subscribe or use any online social network, there is still an incredible amount of information about you in the public domain. For example, birth records, marriage records, real estate purchases, driving offenses, charitable donations, memberships, political affiliations and more can all be quickly found, if you know where and how to look.

In my opinion, that Snowden exposed that the government is collecting information on its citizens is a big “so what?”  Your credit card company has more information on your personal preferences than what the government is supposedly collecting.

What the government does with that information, how long it is stored, and can it be used to extort, embarrass or otherwise harm a private citizen is a very legitimate concern—and an issue that deserves considerable attention. Yet the fact that the information is out there and that it is being collected should not come as a surprise.

What I teach in my Know More! Selling program and my Take the Cold Out of Cold Calling book is how to ethically find information and use it to benefit others. What I teach in my Know More! Reputations program and our new Institute for Social Selling interactive workshop is how to control what others are finding on you.

In the 21st century, understand that your private life really isn’t that private. Whether it’s THE NSA or the OTHER NSA, understand that others are looking for information on you, every day. Understand that there are ways to find and gather information and use it to benefit others. Understand that there are steps you can take to at least manage your digital life and reputation. Understand that this is life in the digital world, now that you Know More!

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