Researchers at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom released a study March 11 that shows just how much the 'Likes' of Facebook users can be used to accurately determine their race, age, IQ, sexual preferences and personality.
In collaboration with researchers with Microsoft Research Cambridge, researchers at the university's Psychometrics Centre analyzed more than 58,000 Facebook users in the United States who volunteered their Likes, demographic profiles and their psychometric testing results from a Facebook application called myPersonality.
The users opted in to providing data and gave consent to the researchers to record their profile information for analysis. Their Facebook Likes were put into algorithms and then corroborated with data from profiles and personality tests, according to the researchers.
Through the project, the researchers were able to create statistical models that can be used to predict personal details using just Facebook Likes. The models were 88 percent correct in regards to predicting male sexuality, 95 percent accurate in distinguishing African-American from Caucasian American and 85 percent accurate in determining whether the person was Republican or Democrat. The models also correctly determined whether a person was Christian or Muslim in 82 percent of the cases.
The researchers also discovered they could use Likes to predict a user's relationship status 65 percent of the time, as well as if they had a substance abuse problem 73 percent of the time.
"I am a great fan and active user of new amazing technologies, including Facebook," Michal Kosinski, operations director at the Psychometric Centre, said in a statement. "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."
"Just the possibility of this happening could deter people from using digital technologies and diminish trust between individuals and institutions—hampering technological and economic progress," Kosinski said. "Users need to be provided with transparency and control over their information."
In a statement provided to ABC News, Facebook said that the prediction of personal characteristics based on publicly accessible data is "hardly surprising."
"No matter the vehicle for information—a bumper sticker, yard sign, logos on clothing, or other data found online—it has already been proven that it is possible for social scientists to draw conclusions about personal attributes based on these characteristics," according to Facebook.
Just recently, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University released a report that Facebook users have simultaneously sought to make their information private even as they share more information about themselves than ever. In their report, the researchers analyzed 5,076 Facebook accounts affiliated with the university between 2005 and 2011.
Their research revealed three trends: one, Facebook users have progressively decreased the amount of information they share and made available to people outside their networks; two, Facebook "arrested or in some cases inverted that trend" towards the end of the observation period; and three, Facebook made changes to its default settings and interface that caused the amount of information users revealed to their Facebook 'friends' – as well as third-party applications and indirect advertisers - increased over time.
"While people try to take control of their personal information, the network keeps changing, affecting their decisions and changing their privacy outcomes," said CMU Associate Professor of Information Technology and Public Policy Alessandro Acquisti, who co-authored the study, in a statement.