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Facebook Privacy Social Networks Stats

Facebook Knows If You're Gay, Use Drugs, Or Are a Republican 473

Posted by samzenpus
from the you-are-what-you-like dept.
Hugh Pickens writes writes "Not that there's anything wrong with that — as the Guardian reports that Facebook users are unwittingly revealing their sexual orientation, drug use and political beliefs– using only public 'like' updates. A study of 58,000 Facebook users in the US found that sensitive personal characteristics about people can be accurately inferred from information in the public domain. Researchers were able to accurately infer a Facebook user's race, IQ, sexuality, substance use, personality or political views (PDF) using only a record of the subjects and items they had 'liked' on Facebook – even if users had chosen not to reveal that information. 'It is good that people's behavior is predictable because it means Facebook can suggest very good stories on your news feed,' says Michal Kosinski, 'But what is shocking is that you can use the same data to predict your political views or your sexual orientation. This is something most people don't realize you can do.' For example, researchers were able to predict whether men were homosexual with 88% accuracy by their likes of Facebook pages such as 'Human Rights Campaign' and 'Wicked the Musical' – even if those users had not explicitly shared their sexuality on the site. According to the study other personality traits linked to predictive likes include for High IQ — 'The Godfather,' 'Lord of the Rings,' 'The Daily Show'; for Low IQ — 'Harley Davidson,' 'I Love Being A Mom,' 'Tyler Perry'; and for male heterosexuality — 'Wu Tang Clan,' 'Shaq,' and 'Being Confused after Waking Up from Naps.' Facebook's default privacy settings mean that your 'likes' are public to anyone and Facebook's own algorithms already use these likes to dictate what stories end up in users' news feeds, while advertisers can access them to determine which are the most effective ads to show you as you browse."
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Facebook Knows If You're Gay, Use Drugs, Or Are a Republican

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  • by Kelson (129150) on Monday March 11, 2013 @06:25PM (#43143401) Homepage Journal

    I figure over-reliance on this sort of analysis explains why Facebook will show me ads for dating services even though it knows I'm married. I like all this geeky stuff, so obviously the advertisers assume I'm single.

  • Re:But (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rsborg (111459) on Monday March 11, 2013 @06:29PM (#43143449) Homepage

    Wouldn't the "highest intelligence indicator" be applied to those who don't "do" facebook, twitter, etc?

    Or did I just miss something flying over my head?

    You aren't missing it, but aren't seeing the totality of Facebook's insidious nature. Now not having a Facebook account is treated by HR departments as suspicious behavior. Also, Facebook made it easy for people to "tag" you - if you don't have an account, you can't repudiate it (or prevent tagging by default). You are literally forced to play their game unless you want your good name being abused. So best move is to have one that's effectively empty, and turn all privacy settings down to the most private.

    Of course this defeats the purpose of having a Facebook account - but that's the purpose, right?

  • Here's a question (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Okian Warrior (537106) on Monday March 11, 2013 @06:33PM (#43143493) Homepage Journal

    So facebook knows all sorts of things about people.

    Here's a question: Does facebook know if you're guilty?

  • Re:But (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 11, 2013 @06:34PM (#43143503)

    There's no intelligence left on facebook. I routinely campaign for my co-habitating "things" (Do I call them human?) to not use facebook and delete their profiles, stop playing their dumb-ass facebook games and start getting "involved in their economy and government".

    They facebook, smoke, drink, and whine about how the government and corporate monopolies are oppressive, rather then considering doing anything about it. They also pretend to garden. Which is ironic because they would starve if walmart and publix did not exist.

    They also procreated.

    I bet you can deduce a lot from what I have to say. But humans are a dumb species in general. I have met smarter animals, usually large predators that don't hang out near people in plain site are smarter then most people.

  • Re:Turns out (Score:5, Interesting)

    by KingSkippus (799657) on Monday March 11, 2013 @06:51PM (#43143657) Homepage Journal

    Funny, but it does make me wonder. While I'm not gay, I do tend to like statuses and pages that have to do with gay rights, and several of my friends on Facebook are gay, yet I still see ads all the time for single ladies in my area. It makes me wonder: 1) Has Facebook accurately pegged me as straight (or bisexual) even though I haven't given it any direct indication of what I am, 2) has Facebook not made the connection and/or advertisers don't care, just spamming their ads to all males, or 3) is Facebook using some other algorithm that happens to be accurate for me, but generally less accurate for the population as a whole? Personally, I think #2 is correct.

    I'd like to see a page about me that says, "Here's the information you've provided, and here's the information we're inferring from what we know about you." I suppose they'd never do that because it might very well creep people out too much, but then, it might get people whose inferences are wrong to directly supply the information to them.

  • Re:Turns out (Score:5, Interesting)

    by 246o1 (914193) on Monday March 11, 2013 @07:00PM (#43143731)

    I'd like to see a page about me that says, "Here's the information you've provided, and here's the information we're inferring from what we know about you." I suppose they'd never do that because it might very well creep people out too much, but then, it might get people whose inferences are wrong to directly supply the information to them.

    BlueKai does something similar (except it's for a wide range of display advertising, not just facebook) - they infer things about you based on your browsing history and use that to target ads at you. They are all over the web, so they have a good amount of information, but the surprising thing to me is that they let you look at your profile on their website - http://www.bluekai.com/registry/ [bluekai.com] is the place to find it.

    I don't work for BlueKai, or even for a company that uses them.

  • Re:But (Score:4, Interesting)

    by GumphMaster (772693) on Monday March 11, 2013 @07:09PM (#43143821)

    Now not having a Facebook account is treated by HR departments as suspicious behavior.

    This, I fear, is quite believable given some of the looks of incredulity I have had when asked by HR for my mobile (cell, for our American brethren) number. I politely decline on the grounds that I neither own nor want a mobile phone. One HR drone even accused me of being dishonest because it was so far beyond her youthful experience as to be unbelievable that one could survive without a mobile. Heck, our home phone when I was a child was made of bakelite and had a handle on the front you turned vigorously to get the operator's attention: our complete phone number was "78". (For the record I am only 45.)

  • Just The Tip (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Bob9113 (14996) on Monday March 11, 2013 @07:14PM (#43143867) Homepage

    found that sensitive personal characteristics about people can be accurately inferred from information in the public domain.

    I've done this stuff, for both ad targeting and music targeting, and I understand the math. Knowing whether you are gay is just the tip of the iceberg.

    From the data it can be inferred whether you believe Bradley Manning was justified, whether you think it is treason for a politician to support warrantless surveillance, and whether you believe the "four boxes" epigram is relevant in the current context.

    It can be inferred how you react to various turns of phrase, which ways of presenting an idea will ring with you, and therefore how to present a story to you, such that you will be likely to repeat the sound bites on one side of the issue or the other.

    They can do this, with an automated system, for hundreds of millions of people -- as can anyone who pays them enough for the data or analysis. It is not a difference in type from what has gone by the name of PR, spin, or handling; but rather a difference of speed, pervasiveness, precision targeting, and potency. It puts more power to distort human perception of reality in the hands of fewer people than ever before -- by orders of magnitude.

    The data, once gathered, will remain, and will be packaged and sold, and cracked and siezed, until long after you are dead -- barring some very serious and extremely disruptive counteractivity. It is getting worse every day, and the cost of correcting it is growing exponentially.

    Most people don't know it is happening, and most of those who do don't seem to grasp the consequences.

  • by Idbar (1034346) on Monday March 11, 2013 @07:22PM (#43143953)
    This is an interesting take.

    Recently a friend updated his status to something like:
    I had an accident, I'm already at the hospital

    I didn't know if I should laugh at the amount of people clicking on "like". Is facebook thinking all the likes meant sadist behaviors?
  • by s.petry (762400) on Monday March 11, 2013 @07:47PM (#43144173)

    Why not just never hit a like button? Sure, it's possible for Google to figure things out based on my URLs, but dang at least they have to work for that one.

  • I love this stuff (Score:5, Interesting)

    by pclminion (145572) on Monday March 11, 2013 @09:19PM (#43144851)

    People like to think that they're "undefinable". In fact, all they are are values of a vector random variable. If you know the values of some of the components you can infer the values of others, because they are not all independent. A similar principle (vector quantization) is used in lossy data compression.

    Somebody will come in here and say "No, you can't know for certain, that's what makes us human" -- no, that's what makes you a random variable. A vector-valued one, but a random variable nonetheless.

  • by Kjella (173770) on Monday March 11, 2013 @09:32PM (#43144943) Homepage

    No. Sometimes, they are statistical observation. Sometimes they are just confirmation bias.

    Most of the time they're just a small group that distinguish themselves so clearly. For example if you asked me to mime an American, I'd probably go for a gun-toting Texan even though I'm perfectly aware that they're hardly representative of a country of 300 million. But those other people are a lot like other people found other places, so if you're going for the uniquely American they rise to the top of the pile. Same with almost every other stereotype I can think of, they're more like a mascot or caricature than reflecting reality.

    At least those based on things like country, now people of the same profession on the other hand can actually be disturbingly like their stereotype. It's something to do with the personality of people attracted to the same line of work and the cultural conformity, like a friend of mine once said after speaking at a conference for county auditors. "I went to the conference thinking it would dispel the stereotypes I had, instead I found they were all true." People have an incredible way of adjusting to what they perceive as normal and that becomes the stereotype.

  • Re:Turns out (Score:4, Interesting)

    by demonlapin (527802) on Monday March 11, 2013 @11:24PM (#43145595) Homepage Journal
    Hardly strange. My wife and I are socially liberal Republicans; we're not the majority of the party but we aren't unique either. We're friends with a very traditional, very Republican lesbian couple. (Like, ridiculously so. One of them took the other's last name when they got married.)
  • How many women on these sites are real?

    Thankfully it only takes one... I met my wife on a dating site. We just celebrated our second wedding anniversary and are preparing for our daughter's birthday.

    Dating sites aren't always as horrid and retched as they seem to be - they're a great way for a shy guy and a shy girl who may otherwise never have crossed paths to get together.

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