Banned Books and the Big Brother Mashup

Nicholas Carr points out this link: Data Mining 101: Finding Subversives with Amazon Wishlists, a very good but disconcerting example of what can be stitched (mashed) together about you. Tom Owad used data from a random sampling of Amazon wishlists to create a profile of a person's interests, such as reading subversive books, that some government agencies might be interested in. He then then aggregated this data and plotted the exact location of those people on a map.

The demonstration follows these steps:

  • Searches on the name "Edgar", in homage to J. Edgar Hoover, and finds 260,000 wishlists.
  • Aggregates on titles like "Fahrenheit 451", "Build Your Own Laser", and "Koran", which returns a healthy sample.
  • The Ontok Geocoder service is used to convert the wishlist addressee information to latitude and longitude coordinates.
  • Then finally, those addresses are accurately plotted on a Google Map.

The image on the right shows readers of "1984".

Well done, clever and a bit scary. Careful what you wish for indeed.

John Musser



[...] For ideas of course you can check the list of 212 APIs or 719 mashups here. Back at MashupCamp 1 there was an initial set of MashupsWeWant ideas. Earlier this spring at Seattle Mind Camp there was mashup brainstorming, see this crazy diagram here, out of which a week later came the Alarm Clock Rhapsody mashup created by Adam Phillabaum. For the “afraid” part, take a look at the Banned Books Mashup where your Amazon wishlist became a tool of the government versus your privacy (more on that here). [...]

[...] This is not the first time that mashups and widget security has been the topic of discussion as you can see some of our earlier reports including Mashups as Hacker’s Dream and Banned Books and the Big Brother Mashup. [...]