Facebook users unwittingly revealing intimate secrets, study finds
Facebook users are unwittingly revealing intimate secrets – including their sexual orientation, drug use and political beliefs – using only public "like" updates, according to a study of online privacy.
The research into 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 using only a record of the subjects and items they had "liked" on Facebook – even if users had chosen not to reveal that information.
The study will reopen the debate about privacy in the digital age and raise fresh concerns about what information people share online.
The researchers used computer software to predict personality traits, but said the same information could be collected by anyone with training in data analysis. They were able to draw "surprisingly accurate" findings about people by aggregating swaths of seemingly innocuous "likes", such as TV shows and movies.
They said they 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. Fewer than 5% of the homosexual participants in the study clicked obvious Likes, such as "Gay Marriage", researchers said.
Computer software inferred with 88% accuracy whether a male Facebook user was homosexual or heterosexual – even if that person chose not to explicitly reveal that information. It had a 75% accuracy rate for predicting drug use among Facebook users, analysing only public "like" updates. The findings will reignite concerns over how much private companies and governments know about internet users through their online habits.