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Sun Nov 23 21:49:35 SAST 2014

What your Facebook 'likes' say about you

Times LIVE | 13 March, 2013 09:38
The Facebook 'like' logo.
Image by: BECK DIEFENBACH / REUTERS

You like a Facebook page, and yes, Facebook are on it like hawks.

The social networking site can learn a lot about you from even that smallest social interaction.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge designed a simple machine-learning system to predict Facebook users' personal information and traits based solely on which pages they had liked, according to a report.

"We were completely surprised by the accuracy of the predictions," Michal Kosinski, lead author on the paper in PNAS, said to New Scientist.

Kosinski and his colleagues built the system by scanning likes for a sample of 58 000 volunteers, and matching them up with other profile details such as age, gender and relationship status.

He also matched up those likes with the results of personality and intelligence tests the volunteers had taken.

The team then used their model to make predictions about other volunteers, based on their likes.

In a nutshell, they found it's pretty easy to predict someone's sexual orientation, gender, political leanings, and personality traits.

Sarah Downey, lawyer and analyst with privacy technology company Abine, foresees insurers using the information held by Facebook to help them identify risky customers and perhaps tag them with higher premiums.

Downey says the research is the first solid example of the kinds of insights that can be made through Facebook.

"This study is a great example of how the little things you do online show so much about you," she says. "You might not remember liking things, but Facebook remembers and it all adds up."

Making personality predictions this way is interesting because likes are visible to the public by default on new Facebook profiles, she says.

A Facebook spokesperson said this kind of insight into personal preferences has been around for years, although did not address the fact that tapping into this information is now easier than ever using its new Graph Search facility.

"With Graph Search it's not just whether you get a job, but whether you get a date," says Downey.

Whether this affects South African users is yet to be seen.

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