A new study by scientists at the University of Cambridge and Microsoft Research shows that Facebook “likes” reveal information that many users’ may not wish to share. Thanks to mathematical models, they were able to predict Facebook users’ sexual orientation, IQ, ethnicity, religion and other personal details based solely on a list of what items those people had “liked” on Facebook.
Newsday’s Ken Schachter reported, “Digital sleuths can forecast a person’s sexual orientation, ethnicity, religious views and illicit drug use simply by analyzing their Facebook ‘Likes,’ according to a new study. The research by scientists at the University of Cambridge and Microsoft Research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday found that their mathematical model correctly labeled men as heterosexual or homosexual 88 percent of the time and Democrat or Republican in 85 percent of the cases. Women’s sexual orientation was tougher to pin down, with only 75 percent accuracy, researchers found.”
According to the BBC, “The study used 58,000 volunteers who alongside their Facebook ‘likes’ and demographic information also provided psychometric testing results – designed to highlight personality traits. The Facebook likes were fed into algorithms and matched with the information from the personality tests. The algorithms proved 88% accurate for determining male sexuality, 95% accurate in distinguishing African-American from Caucasian-American and 85% for differentiating Republican from Democrat. Christians and Muslims were correctly classified in 82% of cases and relationship status and substance abuse was predicted with an accuracy between 65% and 73%.”
Anthony Wing Kosner with Forbes observed, “The more colorful results seem innocuous enough, ‘the best predictors of high intelligence include Thunderstorms, The Colbert Report, Science, and Curly Fries, whereas low intelligence was indicated by Sephora, I Love Being A Mom, Harley Davidson, and Lady Antebellum.’ But in the wrong hands, the expression of preference can be a demographic trap leading to psychographic profiling. Leading indicators for homosexuality include, ‘liking the TV show Desperate Housewives or the musical Wicked.'”
The Associated Press noted, “Facebook launched its like button in 2009, and the small thumbs-up symbol has since become ubiquitous on the social network and common across the rest of the Web as well. Facebook said last year that roughly 2.7 billion new likes pour out onto the Internet every day — endorsing everything from pop stars to soda pop. That means an ever-expanding pool of data available to marketers, managers, and just about anyone else interested in users’ inner lives, especially those who aren’t careful about their privacy settings.”