Data on our data: 250,000,000 email address books

Molly Wood Jun 10, 2014

This month marks the first anniversary of the Edward Snowden leaks that changed our understanding of online privacy. Just like the subject matter of the leaks, the reporting over the last year has offered a deluge of information. So this week, we’re posting a short series about all that data. Every day we’ll bring you another number that reminds us how much we have learned in the last year about online surveillance and the reach of the NSA.

250,000,000

email address books

Stephen Cobb, *Senior Security Researcher at ESET says that during a single day in 2012, the NSA’s Special Source Operations branch copied a ton of users’ online address books and all the data therein, including names, phone numbers, addresses, and added notes. The exact breakdown?444,743 e-mail address books from Yahoo, 105,068 from Hotmail, 82,857 from Facebook, 33,697 from Gmail and 22,881 from other providers. The data is often succeptible to interception when a user logs on, composes a message, or synchronizes a computer or mobile device with information stored on remote servers. Cobb says you can get a really good picture of a person’s activity and social network from an address book. And that should raise some alarms.


*CORRECTION: The original version of this story incorrectly identified Stephen Cobb. Cobb is a Senior Security Researcher at ESET. The text has been corrected.

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