The Guardian reports Facebook users are ‘unwittingly revealing intimate secrets – including their sexual orientation, drug use and political beliefs’.
What a writer calls ‘algorithmic detective work’ — the use of common Big Data techniques – could allow Facebook and similar operations to work out that if you like certain films or express certain views you are more likely to have this or that sexual orientation or religious beliefs.
The culprit, it turns out, is stats. That’s to say statistical techniques allowing inferences to be made from the clues Facebook users offer through their likes. Look at enough examples of likes, combined with other fragments of data and reliable associations can be made to gender, orientation and belief and you can make reliable associations.
In a study researchers had been able to infer Facebook users’ race, IQ, sexuality, substance use, personality or political views – even where they had chosen not to reveal such information.
One of its authors, Michal Kosinski of the Cambridge University psychometric centre, professed himself spooked at the finding, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. ‘Everyone carries around their Facebook likes, their browsing history and their search history, trusting corporations that it will be used to predict their movies or music tastes.
‘But if you ask about governments, I am not sure people would like them to predict things like religion or sexuality, especially in less peaceful or illiberal countries.’
They said they were able to predict whether men were homosexual with 88 per cent accuracy by their likes of Facebook pages on human rights and even musicals.