Large corporations routinely use social networking data to find out how people are connected to each other. They hope to use this information to sell you more products. This technology cuts both ways, however, and a mobile app called Buycott makes it easier than ever to find out how products and corporations are related to each other. It is a consumer glimpse into corporate networking, if you want to look at it that way. The networking information involved is large but not amazingly massive, and Buycott puts it to use as the back end of a bar code scanner. From the Buycott product web site:
When you use Buycott to scan a product, it will look up the product, determine what brand it belongs to, and figure out what company owns that brand (and who owns that company, ad infinitum).
Imagine that — you can find out where a product comes from! Buycott suggests that you use this information to support manufacturers that have taken favorable positions on political issues that you care about, while avoiding ones that have taken adverse positions. For example, if you like the Internet, you might pass over a product from a conglomerate that spends money trying to promote legislation that would shut down the Internet, and instead buy one from a company that has taken the opposite position on that issue. But it seems to me that is only the beginning. If you find out where a product comes from, it may help you understand the product itself better. Beyond that, you may be able to deconstruct the marketing message, now that its source is no longer anonymous, and that can help you see how commercial interests are trying to manipulate you.
These are much like the kinds of things that the corporations you will be looking at are already doing with social networking data. These same corporations might not embrace networking analysis quite so eagerly when they found out it is being used against them.