March 13, 2013
Simply by delving into volunteers’ Likes, the researchers could determine in 95 percent of cases whether a person was Caucasian or African American and in 88 percent of cases whether the person was heterosexual or homosexual. They could determine whether the person is Christian or Islamic 82 percent of the time.
The researchers described Facebook Likes as “a generic class of digital record that could be used to extract sensitive information.” Volunteers used the myPersonality Facebook app to track their Likes, which were fed into algorithms to arrive at the results. The data were supported by information from volunteer profiles and personality tests.
Of course some of these Likes are a no-brainer. Liking “Being Gay” is at least a decent indicator of one’s sexuality. Liking Barack Obama means there’s a good chance you’re voting Democratic next time around. This is not exactly rocket science. But some Likes appeared to have zero connection to personal attributes. Sure, curly fries are delicious, but is Liking them the best indicator that you have a high IQ? Also, one of the Likes that helped identify heterosexual men was “Being Confused After Waking Up from Naps.” Is that really a trait only straight men are afflicted with?
While the results can be seen as hilarious for anyone that’s not a Harley-Davidson rider (I kid), the privacy implications are alarming. Facebook Likes are public by default.
Facebook isn’t about privacy.