Think before you ‘like’

Facebook might know a little bit more about you than you think.

A recent study has shown that personal information such as a user’s sexuality and even their drug use can be correctly inferred by studying their ‘likes’ on Facebook.

The research from Cambridge University into 58,000 Facebook users in the United States found that personal and sometimes highly sensitive information about a person such as their race, sexual orientation, political views, drug taking habits and even their IQ could be correctly inferred by simply studying the pages that the person had ‘liked’ on Facebook – even if the user hadn’t chosen to publicly publicise that information.

After running Facebook ‘likes’ through a sophisticated algorithm, the researchers were able to tell with 88% accuracy whether a man was gay or straight for example. What’s important to note is that fewer than 5% of the gay men in the study had clicked obvious ‘likes’ such as gay marriage, so the researchers were able to tell a person’s sexuality through far less revealing ‘likes’ (such as the No H8 Campaign and Wicked the Musical for example).

In addition, 75% of the time the researchers could tell whether a Facebook user took illegal drugs and 95% of the time they could tell the person’s race. The researchers could even tell whether users’ parents had separated by the time they were 21 or not!

On the one hand, this could be positive news for Facebook users as it means Facebook should be able to target them with more relevant ads and news content in the future. On the other hand, it shows once more how dangerous the use of social media can often be from a basic privacy point of view.

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