The Latvians have invaded LinkedIn. Can the NSA be far behind?

In the new surveillance state, who you know -- or somebody thinks you know -- is more important than who you are.

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Unlike most sane people, I spend a lot of time fretting over LinkedIn. More specifically, I think about LinkedIn’s People You May Know feature. How does LinkedIn know I may know these people? What do my alleged connections say about me? And just where is LinkedIn getting its information? I have deep suspicions, but no proof.

Lately, though, things have taken a turn for the absurd. Looking at my endlessly scrolling list of People You May Know, I discovered Latvians. Not just four or five Latvians – more like 40 or 50 Latvians, most of whom aren’t even distantly connected to me.

I took seven more screen shots just like that one before I got tired of counting Latvians. I think half of the country is on my PYMK list. Still, I have to admit, I really want to party with this guy:

For the record, I have never been to Latvia. Without the help of Google Maps I could not have easily located it (it’s on the Baltic Sea between Lithuania and Estonia, FYI). Until I started digging into why LinkedIn thinks I am such a big deal in the Baltic, I had never visited the profile of anyone located in Latvia.

As they might say in Riga: Kas pie velna?

It turns out, though, I have two LinkedIn connections to Latvia. One was a connection request from an architect last January, another from a woman in the hotel business in April. I have no idea why they wanted to connect to me, nor do I have any recollection of saying yes, but that’s just the way it goes in today’s wacky world of social networking.

After the invasion of their countrymen I sent them both a message via LinkedIn asking if we really knew each other and why they wanted to connect. I have yet to get a response. Maybe I should have written it in Latvian.

I also asked Julie Inouye, the exceedingly patient spokesperson for LinkedIn, what was up with the sudden influx of Latvians into my social sphere. The official response:

As you know, many signals go into PYMK which we don't break down. What I can share is that the team is aware of the issue that you are experiencing and it is something the team is working on to improve the recommendation algorithm.

Sounds like a bug to me.

Of course, People You May Know is really just a chunk of code built around an algorithm – in this particular case, an algorithm that appears to have gone a little haywire (or as they say in Latvia, stipri aizrāvies). That by itself is not significant. But there’s a bigger issue at play here.

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