On 18 June 2013, Henry Been defended his MSc thesis on an attempt to find a person’s Twitter account given only name, address, telephone, email address for the purpose of risk analysis for fraud detection. It turned out that he could determine a set of a few tens/hunderds of candidate Twitter accounts among which the correct one was indeed present in almost all cases. Henry also paid much attention to the ethical aspects surrounding this research. A news item on the UT homepage made it on ACM TechNews.
“Finding you on the Internet: Entity resolution on Twitter accounts and real world people”[download]
Over the last years online social network sites [SNS] have become very popular. There are many scenarios in which it might prove valuable to know which accounts on a SNS belong to a person. For example, the dutch social investigative authority is interested in extracting characteristics of a person from Twitter to aid in their risk analysis for fraud detection.
In this thesis a novel approach to finding a person’s Twitter account using only known real world information is developed and tested. The developed approach operates in three steps. First a set of heuristic queries using known information is executed to find possibly matching accounts. Secondly, all these accounts are crawled and information about the account, and thus its owner, is extracted. Currently, name, url’s, description, language of the tweets and geo tags are extracted. Thirdly, all possible matches are examined and the correct account is determined.
This approach differs from earlier research in that it does not work with extracted and cleaned datasets, but directly with the Internet. The prototype has to cope with all the ”noise” on the Internet like slang, typo’s, incomplete profiles, etc. Another important part the approach was repetition of the three steps. It was expected that repeating the discovering candidates, enriching them and eliminating false positives will increase the chance that over time the correct account ”surfaces.”
During development of the prototype ethical concerns surrounding both the experi- ments and the application in practice were considered and judged morally justifiable.
Validation of the prototype in an experiment showed that the first step is executed very well. In an experiment With 12 subjects with a Twitter account, an inclusion of 92% was achieved. This means that for 92% of the subjects the correct Twitter account was found and thus included as a possible match. A number of variations of this experiment were ran, which showed that inclusion of both first and last name is necessary to achieve this high inclusion. Leaving out physical addresses, e-mail addresses and telephone numbers does not influence inclusion.
Contrary to those of the first step, the results of the third step were less accurate. The currently extracted features cannot be used to predict if a possible match is actually the correct Twitter account or not. However, there is much ongoing research into feature extraction from tweets and Twitter accounts in general. It is therefore expected that enhancing feature extraction using new techniques will make it a matter of time before it is also possible to identify correct matches in the candidate set.