Quoted: on how Facebook Likes can be ‘spooky,’ ‘seductive’ — and deductive

“The spooky thing is that these traits can be deduced from things that aren’t very obvious.”

Michal Kosinski of  Cambridge University in the U.K., who led a study that found that Facebook users’ Likes could accurately predict personality traits, IQs, sexual preference, political beliefs, behavior and more. While Facebook reportedly said the study, published Monday, was “hardly surprising” — marketers have long used the information many of us have been giving up — the researchers themselves and privacy advocates are issuing renewed calls for caution. “When people today agree to volunteer information, they have no idea what can be inferred from that information,” Helen Nissenbaum, director of the Information Law Institute at New York University (not involved in the study), told the Wall Street Journal. The study examined the Likes of 58,000 Facebook users in the U.S. who volunteered access to their thumbs-up of everything from Kohl’s to Kim Kardashian. Examples of what the researchers were able to determine from the Likes: whether users were black or white, Democrat or Republican, gay or straight, and whether users’ parents were divorced. The researchers also found a curious connection between the endorsement of curly fries and high intelligence. One of the researchers, David Stillwell, called the ubiquitous Like buttons “seductive.” Why Like something? The reasons can range from wanting to save money or get discounts at a store, supporting a cause or a friend, or wanting updates about a product or issue — though not necessarily endorsing it. But because the Like button can also be deductive, you may not necessarily want your Likes to be seen by others. Just navigate to Likes from your Facebook profile page, then click Edit to change your settings.


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