A recent study conducted of Facebook "Likes" by Cambridge University using algorithms found means of predicting user personality, sexual orientation and more. The revealing glimpse into user data of the world's largest social network Facebook was published in the journal PNAS and included a wealth of information about the 58,000 volunteers who participated in the study. This study also furthered the debate over issues like online privacy and the exploitation of personal data for commercial gain.
The research, led by Michael Kosinski, combined user demographic information, "Likes," and psychometric testing to predict personality traits, race, political viewpoint, male sexuality, substance abuse, relationship status, and other identifying information. The information then was matched with algorithms which proved to be accurate in 88% of users in sourcing male sexuality, 95% accurate in determining race, 85% accurate in separating Democrats from Republicans, 82% accurate in predicting relationship status, and between 65% - 73% in identifying substance abuse issues.
The results of the study only deepened concerns of those critical of Facebook's privacy policies. Kosinski offered: "I appreciate automated book recommendations, or Facebook selecting the most relevant stories for my Newsfeed. However I can imagine situations in which the same data and technology is used to predict political views or sexual orientation, posing threats to freedom or even life." Watch groups, which regularly campaign against Facebook, echo Kosinski's thoughts. Nick Pickles, who works as directer of Big Brother Watch responded to the conclusions of the study and the issues of privacy with: "This research should ring alarm bells for anyone who thinks that privacy settings are the solution to protecting information online. We need to fundamentally re-think how much data we are voluntarily sharing."