Clicking “like” on Facebook is a fairly forgettable act. I like the TV show “The Wire.” I like the musician Leonard Cohen. I like this one shoe company because they were giving away a free pair of boots (I didn’t win).
But one new study found you can actually predict quite a lot about a person based on their Facebook likes.
Psychologists at Cambridge University conducted a study using information from 58,000 U.S. Facebook user volunteers and found they could figure out what your political views are, your race, your sexual orientation … they can even predict with some certainty whether or not your parents divorced.
And the likes they’re using to make these predictions aren’t necessarily obvious.
An example given in the Wall Street Journal was this: The combination of likes for Austin, Texas; Martin Lawrence’s “Big Momma” movies; and the statement “Relationships Should Be Between Two People Not the Whole Universe” were on a list of choices that predicted drug use. And likes for chocolate-chip cookie-dough ice cream and “Sliding on Floors with Your Socks On” are among those that indicate you don’t do drugs.
Liking curly fries is correlated with a high IQ. Spontaneous people like anime. Single folks tend to like “Hunger Games.” People in relationships like Weight Watchers. And with some of those sets of indications, we’re talking about 80-95 percent accuracy.
I have some questions when I think about studies like this:
First: Should we be more careful when we’re online? Thinking about all of this publicly available data is just … creepy. And everyone from the federal government to hackers has access to loads of data every day. It makes me nervous, but I still wonder: It took a team of Cambridge scientists how much time to come up with these predictors? What are the chances that someone is going to dig that hard to figure out how much beer I drank in college? And do I care?
Second: Why are people still targeting me with such crazy Facebook ads? I would think if someone can figure out who I voted for in the last election based on the books I like, these social advertisers might be able to figure out that I have zero interest in either a psychology degree or cloth diapers.