Earlier this week, there were news sheets with headlines of ‘Facebook users unwittingly reveal intimate secrets, study finds’, and similarly on BBC news ‘Facebook like predict personality types’. The news being that Cambridge University researchers have found that when a user clicks the like button on Facebook, intimate secrets are being revealed; such as sexual orientation, drug use and political beliefs.
I would hardly call these nuggets intimate secrets. If Cambridge University researchers could find, for example, that one has cheated on their partner or accidentally killed a toddler, and people consequently click like on Facebook, then that would be a revelation. It seems logical that someone’s Facebook likes would build up a profile of themselves and that when individual liked groups are studied many subscribers would have similar personality types. Such as people who like giraffes on Facebook would share more than just their like-ing-ness of giraffes such as being animal- lovers, may have visited Africa or love partners with extended necks.
With 88% accuracy The Guardian illustrates the results of the researchers by predicting whether men are homosexual if the like “Wicked the Musical” and “Human Rights Campaign” pages. I would have thought that this is statistically likely and that the user who likes more things has a greater chance of being shown personality traits. But The Guardians phrase “Online site such as Facebook should be forced by regulation to inform users that deeply private information may be gleaned about them” seems a little hyperbolic. It should be obvious to users that liking something produces collateral information about them. Fear-mongering for the inhibited.
…the effect of total paranoia at all stages of life…
Perhaps more harmfully private information can be gleaned from other computer data not from Facebook likes. Computers chips are in everything. Phones, cars, cookers, toothbrushes, sandals, artificial limbs, books, hairdryers, cornflakes, shampoo, tables, calendars, food processors, car parks etc… So surely a more accurate way to scaremonger would be to hint at a collective database of connected signals from all these chips to one mainframe which can tell everything about someone. This could have the effect of total paranoia at all stages of life over than just social networking sites.
Obviously clicking like on a Facebook page is inexpensive marketing for the company or thing being liked. Also an effective way of targeting many people who may have more in common than just being friends on Facebook. Using data and privacy as currency should not be news to Facebook users on the week of March 11, marketers using ones information as a persuasive tool to buy something has been used since the early days of the company but has expanded. Even if it was a slow day for news, then why have Cambridge University researchers find researching the obvious productive and newsworthy. Perhaps they were searching for something deeper which did not become visible so handed it in with lack of inspiration. This assumption could no doubt have been revealed by which pages they liked on Facebook.