Did you know that your 'Likes' on Facebook could expose intimate details about you as well as personality traits you might not want to share with anyone? Some things about ourselves we rather keep private, right? Most of us don’t openly share with the World sensitive personal attributes such as our sexual preferences, our religious or political views, how intelligent we are, how happy we are with life or whether we consume alcohol, cigarettes or even drugs.
However, a recent study shows that it is possible to accurately predict a range of highly sensitive personal attributes simply by analyzing the ‘Likes’ you have clicked on Facebook. The work conducted by researchers at Cambridge University and Microsoft Research shows how the patterns of Facebook ‘Likes’ can very accurately predict your sexual orientation, satisfaction with life, intelligence, emotional stability, religion, alcohol use and drug use, relationship status, age, gender, race and political views among many others. It is quite scary that those “revealing” ‘Likes’ can have little or nothing to do with the actual attributes they help to predict and often a single ‘Like’ is enough to generate an accurate prediction.
Who would have thought that a ‘Like’ for ‘Curly Fries’ is a strong predictor of high intelligence? Maybe this is a good place to reveal that I love curly fries (never thought I would share this publicly). Anyway, here are some of the most predictive ‘Likes’ identified in the study:
The thing is, when we click ‘Like’ we want to show our friends on Facebook that we feel positive about or supportive of specific online content such as status updates, photos or products, books, music or other individuals such as celebrities. What many of us don’t realize is that by doing so we openly share information about ourselves that can then be used to predict other, more personal, attributes that we would not want to share so openly. We now live in a world where everything in digitalized – were we consume music in digital formats, read eBooks, where we shop online and interact with friends and colleagues using social media platforms. This also means that we leave a digital trail of our life and our preferences, which in turn can make it easy to figure out our attributes and personality traits. We call this type of analysis ‘Big Data Analytics’ and it allows us to use large volumes of data – such as Facebook ‘Likes’ – and turn them into insights and predictions.
Predicting personality traits and attributes is nothing new and was around before 'Big Data Analyics'. For example, personality questionnaires have been around for a long time and they do accurately predict personality types and traits. However, what was different in the past is that we had much more control over the process – we had to complete the survey or give others permission to use our data. With Facebook ‘Likes’ it is slight different because they are by default publicly available. This means that the information you reveal by clicking on a ‘Like’ button can – by default – be used or ‘exploited’ by others, for good causes and bad ones.
Commercial companies can use this type of Big Data Analytics to dynamically customize the ads you see on your Facebook page (or in fact anywhere) based on your personality traits. Just think of an online ad for the latest car – for people that are classed as shy, reserved and married the ad might highlight safety and family friendliness, while for an single, outgoing and active person it might highlight the attractive design and sporty drive. More worryingly, Governments could (and do) use this type of analysis to identify our political views and how they are shifting. Insights from this can then be used to target election campaigns etc.
One problem is that these predictive models are not perfect (no model ever will be). Not everyone who likes curly fries is automatically highly intelligent. The danger is that we use the insights from predictive modeling and label people wrongly or come to incorrect conclusions about them. I can imagine simple mobile phone apps that would allow you to predict personality traits of your friends. Would you like that? Do you feel that this type of analysis invades your privacy? Will you think twice about ‘Liking’ anything on Facebook from now on? Let me know what you think…share your views…