Cambridge University researchers say they have found a way of getting extra information about Facebook users from their “Likes”.
Facebook users’ online behaviour reveals intimate details about personality which could let strangers predict their sexuality, political views and religion, researchers have claimed.
Experts stated by pressing button Like, it is possible to predict accurately what a person is like in real life.
Whether it is drug users being more inclined to show approval for Big Momma’s movies or people with a high IQ showing a taste for curly chips, the patterns are not always immediately obvious to the untrained eye.
But Cambridge University researchers believe they can work out what lies behind the hidden clues.
“We believe that our results, while based on Facebook Likes, apply to a wider range of online behaviours,” said Michal Kosinski, operation director at the University of Cambridge’s Psychometrics Centre.
“Similar predictions could be made from all manner of digital data, with this kind of secondary ‘inference’ made with remarkable accuracy – statistically predicting sensitive information people might not want revealed.”
“Given the variety of digital traces people leave behind, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for individuals to control.”
The ‘likes’ may be clues as to the user’s personalities.
The study, based on the Facebook profiles of 58,000 people in the US, found that online behaviour can be used to make surprising accurate predictions about users’ race, age, IQ, sexuality, personality, substance use and political views.
After feeding Facebook preferences into an algorithm, they created models which were able to determine male sexuality with 88% accuracy, race with 95% accuracy, political leanings with 85% accuracy and religion 82% of the time.
But few users clicked “Likes” which explicitly revealed these traits.
For example, fewer than 5% of gay users clicked obvious links such as “Gay Marriage” and instead inference was drawn from more popular likes such as music and TV shows.
The finding could be used to direct personalised marketing to web users, but also highlights potential threats to privacy.
Mr Kosinski said: “I am a great fan and active user of new amazing technologies, including Facebook. I appreciate automated book recommendations or Facebook selecting the most relevant stories for my newsfeed.”