In recent times, Facebook has attempted to give its members a modicum of privacy protection via tighter security measures and improved user controls. However, a new study has revealed that even the most tightly guarded Facebook account can still reveal a wealth of information about its owner, including their political and religious views, gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. You can lay the blame squarely on that little ‘like’ button.
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Researchers at Cambridge’s Psychometrics Centre developed a mathematical model — dubbed ‘myPersonality application’ — to sift through the Like records of 58,000 US Facebook users in an attempt to predict the traits and preferences of each user.
The Facebook Likes were fed into algorithms and then compared to information garnered from profiles and personality tests. In almost all cases, the results were remarkably accurate.
According to the research report, the model accurately predicted participants’ gender in 93 percent of cases, ethnic origin in 95 percent of cases and sexual orientation in 88 percent of cases based on the participants’ Facebook Likes alone. It also correctly classified Democrats/Republicans and Christians/Muslims in more than 80% of cases.
The researchers claim that the digital record left by Facebook Likes makes it possible to extract sensitive information from almost anyone who uses the social network.
We’d imagine the application’s ability to predict sexual orientation is especially worrying to people in countries where homosexuality is outlawed. Less that 5 percent of gay users actually clicked Likes which were explicitly about gay issues. Instead, the model successfully made its predictions via ‘inference’ — aggregating Likes for specific music and TV shows, for example.
Curiously, the model was less accurate when it came to predicting the participants’ relationship status, which is commonly the most freely available information on a person’s Facebook page. The study also found that people who Liked Lifehacker articles have a much higher rate of intelligence. (We made that last statistic up, but we’re willing to bet it’s true.)
Are you mindful about the content you Like on Facebook? Have any of your friends’ Likes ever surprised or shocked you? Let us know in the comments section below.