A recent Cambridge University study revealed what many of us already know: each time we “like” a Facebook post, we are revealing something about ourselves. The results of the study were pretty jarring though as researchers found that Facebook “knows” their customers quite well with a just a small number of likes:
10 likes: as well as a colleague
70 likes: as well as a close friend
150 likes: as well as your parents
300 likes: as well as your spouse
This data can be used to predict gender, sexual orientation, political affiliations, and other important personal details. In fact, Facebook recently came under considerable criticism for research designed to identify psychological states of teenagers that could potentially be used for targeted advertising.
Analyzing social media data certainly presents opportunities for good, such as predicting and tracking influenza outbreaks. In many ways, it offers the digital version of predicting future behaviors, replacing anecdotal methods such as that of a friend of mine who claimed he could predict future prison riots by analyzing canteen purchases (inmates would stock up on supplies anticipating a future lockdown).
Regardless of how you feel about social media, it’s important to know that each time you press the enter key, you are revealing a little bit more about yourself – even to people you will never meet. This may not be a bad thing… but it is a thing.