Facebook 'Likes' Reveal Private Data

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An algorithm based on Facebook "likes" reveals a surprisingly accurate view of a user's intimate preferences.
Berliner Verlag/Archiv/dpa/Corbis

Those Facebook 'likes' can reveal a lot more than you think.

Research released Monday shows patterns from these Facebook preferences can provide surprisingly accurate estimates of the user's race, age, IQ, sexuality and other personal information.

The researchers developed an algorithm that uses Facebook likes -- which are publicly available unless a user chooses stronger privacy settings -- to create personality profiles, potentially revealing a user's intimate details.

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These mathematical models proved 88 percent accurate for differentiating males from females and 95 percent accurate distinguishing African-Americans from whites.

The algorithms were also able to extrapolate information such as sexual orientation, whether the user was a substance abuser, or even whether their parents had separated.

This data can be used for advertising and marketing, but it also could make users cringe because of the amount of personal data revealed, the researchers said.

"It's very easy to click the 'like' button, it's seductive," said David Stillwell, a psychometrics researcher and co-author of the study with colleagues from Cambridge University and Microsoft Research.

"But you don't realize that years later all those likes are building up against you."

Stillwell said that while Facebook data was used in this study, similar profiles could be produced using other digital data including Web searches, emails and mobile phone activity.

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"You can come to the same conclusions with many forms of these digital data," he told AFP.

The study examined 8,000 US Facebook users, who volunteered their likes, demographic profiles and psychometric testing results.