After 170 Likes, Facebook Will Know Everything About You

The University of California conducted a study of 58 000 individuals in order to determine whether they could predict character attributes by analyzing facebook likes. The results were shocking

“We distinguish between data that are actually recorded and information that can be statistically predicted from such records. People may choose not to reveal certain pieces of information about their lives, such as their sexual orientation or age, and yet this information might be predicted in a statistical sense from other aspects of their lives that they do reveal. For example, a major US retail network used customer shopping records to predict pregnancies of its female customers and send them well-timed and well-targeted offers (6). In some contexts, an unexpected flood of vouchers for prenatal vitamins and maternity clothing may be welcome, but it could also lead to a tragic outcome, e.g., by revealing (or incorrectly suggesting) a pregnancy of an unmarried woman to her family in a culture where this is unacceptable (7). As this example shows, predicting personal information to improve products, services, and targeting can also lead to dangerous invasions of privacy”.

“This study demonstrates the degree to which relatively basic digital records of human behavior can be used to automatically and accurately estimate a wide range of personal attributes that people would typically assume to be private. The study is based on Facebook Likes, a mechanism used by Facebook users to express their positive association with (or “Like”) online content, such as photos, friends’ status updates, Facebook pages of products, sports, musicians, books, restaurants, or popular Web sites. Likes represent a very generic class of digital records, similar to Web search queries, Web browsing histories, and credit card purchases. For example, observing users’ Likes related to music provides similar information to observing records of songs listened to online, songs and artists searched for using a Web search engine, or subscriptions to related Twitter channels. In contrast to these other sources of information, Facebook Likes are unusual in that they are currently publicly available by default. However, those other digital records are still available to numerous parties (e.g., governments, developers of Web browsers, search engines, or Facebook applications), and, hence, similar predictions are unlikely to be limited to the Facebook environment”.
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