How Many Cat Pics Does the NSA Have to Click Through?

Cute animals make up two percent of social sharing, says Bitly's chief scientist.

Thought your friendly neighborhood NSA analyst isn't the fuzzy animal type? Well, okay, there's really no way to tell, and it's hard to know exactly how much Internet traffic ends up in the government's hands — the exact scope and reach of the NSA monitoring program PRISM are unknown. What we do know, however, is that adorable animals make up a relatively significant slice of social sharing.

"I can tell you that around 2 percent of social links are some cute fuzzy animal. There are actually more photos of dogs than cats that are shared, and yet somehow cats have metaphorically come to represent the Internet," said Bitly's chief scientist Hilary Mason at The Atlantic and Aspen Institute's New York Ideas festival in May.

On a more serious note, she and Atlantic writer Megan Garber went on to discuss the privacy entanglements facing social sharing companies. "I do think there is a tension there that is a policy question: What right do we as consumers have to the data people are collecting about us?" she said.

You can see a clip from their conversation below, which offers a few interesting perspectives on the image problem that's been haunting data gathering in the past couple of weeks.

Even if it's unclear whether NSA analysts have to sort through the world's diet of cute animal clips, it's fun to imagine, right?

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NSA Director Keith Alexander looking at cat pic hologram (Images courtesy of Artcic Wolves/Flickr and Emilian Robert Vicol/Flickr; editing by The Atlantic)