How many posts, pictures and pages have you ‘liked’ on Facebook since the thumbs up button was first introduced in 2009. You probably can’t even remember most of them. A coworker of mine was surprised to learn that when someone who is not a contact of hers lands on her page, one of the first things they see is that she ‘likes’ Susan Boyle.

New research published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences from Cambridge University shows that your Facebook likes could be revealing a lot more private information about you than you actually planned to share.

For this study, researchers analysed data from 58,000 Facebook users to predict their personality traits and lifestyle information about them that was not otherwise made public on their Facebook profiles. The amount of information about a person’s personal life and behaviours that can be gleaned from just their likes is startling.

Said the report’s authors, “We show that easily accessible digital records of behavior, Facebook Likes, can be used to automatically and accurately predict a range of highly sensitive personal attributes including: sexual orientation, ethnicity, religious and political views, personality traits, intelligence, happiness, use of addictive substances, parental separation, age, and gender.”

Using the Facebook likes of study participants, researchers were able to predict sexual orientation with 88% accuracy; they were 95% accurate in distinguishing whether a person was black or white, and 85% accurate in identifying conservatives from liberals. Even whether users were substance abusers was predicted correctly 73% of the time.

Apparently, men who like the TV musical “Glee” are more likely to be gay, while men who like professional wrestling are probably straight. For some reason people who ‘like’ curly fries tend to have higher IQs. (The study’s authors admit they can’t crack to correlation between the two.)

Even less obvious personal details such as whether your parents separated before you were 21 were accurately predicted 60% of the time. Researchers suggested that such personal history about users might be useful to potential advertisers in targeting them.

Earlier studies have shown that employers like analyzing the Facebook profiles of potential candidates to get a glimpse at their interests and activities. This can be a good way to evaluate whether or not they’re a cultural fit for the organization. This new report shows that a fairly accurate portrait of a person can be drawn from what they ‘like’ – without even accessing their profile information.

So apparently like it or not, you are what you like. (Or, of course, you could just make your Facebook ‘likes’ private.) And while we’re on the topic, you could always reveal that you’re a career minded Canadian who wants to join the conversation on social media and like Workopolis on Facebook.

Source: Private traits and attributes are predictable from digital records of human behavior


Peter Harris

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