It’s obvious, but true: the pages, statuses, products and more that you “like” on Facebook say something about your personal preferences. However, a new study by Cambridge University found that a hypothetical system using an algorithm to correlate users’ preferences could predict their behavior, often to scary degrees. It’s pretty simple, really: by deducing that some people’s preferences are related without assuming that they have a causal relationship, a system could very easily use data readily available on Facebook to make conclusions about a user’s personal life. Based on what a user “liked,” the researchers concluded that they could “determine things like your sex, ethnicity, political leanings, and religion with accuracies over 80 percent.”
Facebook has faced many accusations in the past of misusing users’ personal data, and while they don’t sell data to marketers, it’s clear that the amount of information Facebook controls is astonishing. Perhaps the most disturbing conclusion of the study, however, is how much information an interested party could find about a Facebook user even if they have strict privacy controls. The things users like and share on the site are public information, and using just that data, the Cambridge researchers proved that they could draw some pretty accurate – and personal – conclusions.
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