Wednesday March 13, 2013 | 12:15 PM
Posted by Rob Gould

Has Facebook been revealing secrets about you?

Personally, I find this possibility to be quite disturbing as I have been so careful to maintain a low profile in all of my social media activities. But, if you're so inclined, please follow me on Twitter for updates on my grooming regimen and Instagram for photos of my cat.

So, I don't find anything surprising about what I'm going to cover here, but I believe that many of you will. I gave up on the notion that I have anything resembling online privacy (or offline privacy for that matter) years ago. However, my lack of privacy is owed to the fact that I've elected to be a heavy social media user and have also made conscious choices about disclosing many personal details about my life in the process. The vast majority of Facebook users have not made these conscious choices. So, what secrets are you revealing that you didn't know you'd shared?

We all know that if you "like" lots of things on Facebook, you may benefit from special offers, discounts, and the positive feelings associated with supporting people, places and brands that you feel good about. However, new research findings prove that public likes reveal more about you than you may be aware. In an extensive academic study, personal information, easily gathered from personal Facebook profiles, was then culled by computer programs that analyze how people use the social network.

Scientists from the University of Cambridge (UK) conducted the study and the findings revealed that Facebook "likes" alone can very accurately predict things like race, age, IQ, sexuality, personality, substance use and political views. Now, if that doesn't make you want to think twice before liking something, I don't know what will.

Making the results even more compelling, is the fact that this is one of the most comprehensive studies of its kind. The highly respected Cambridge academics, analyzed data gleaned from the profiles of 58,000 U.S. Facebook users. The results predicted traits, some of which I noted above, and other information, none of which were provided in the profiles.

"The computer algorithms used by the researchers were 88 per cent accurate in predicting male sexual orientation, 95 per cent accurate for race and 80 per cent accurate for religion and political leanings. Personality types and emotional stability were also predicted with alarming accuracy ranging from 62-75 per cent."—from Financial Times

"The study notes that Likes that are 'the best predictors of high intelligence include "Thunderstorms," The Colbert Report, "Science" and "Curly Fries." Low intelligence was indicated by liking (Facebook pages for) "Sephora," "I Love Being A Mom," "Harley Davidson" and "Lady Antebellum."' Researchers gave no further explanation of these findings."—from USA TODAY

So, if I've liked both curly fries and Sephora, what does that make me? Average? I hate that. And then I read this ...

"The study highlights growing concerns about social networks and how data trails can be mined for sensitive information, even when people attempt to keep information about themselves private. Less than 5 per cent of users predicted to be gay, for example, were connected with explicitly gay groups."—from Financial Times

That means this algorithm might know you're gay before you do. Or at least before you've "liked" the Human Rights Campaign.

Personally, I'm blaming it on Sephora. And vanity.

It's also worth noting that, to-date, Facebook has declined to comment. Shocking.

So, is any of this illegal? No. Unethical? You tell me.

*including citations from USA TODAY and the Financial Times

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Social media has changed the way that many of us learn, purchase, interact and explore the world around us. And, things are just getting started. Social, Social is a place to discuss social media with people from all walks of life. No experts allowed.

About the Author

Rob works as a digital marketing & public relations consultant to agencies, brands, and individuals. He has 20 years of marketing experience. He also currently serves in a volunteer capacity as director of pr/communications for TEDxDirigo. From 2005-2011, Rob served as director of social media & agency communications at The VIA Agency (Portland). Prior to VIA, Rob worked with several PR & advertising agencies in London & Boston. He is a graduate of The University of Vermont (UVM) and a Maine transplant (2002).

Follow Rob on Twitter at @bobbbyg

His real-life interests include art, travel, writing, design, psychology, the beach, & exercise (grudgingly at times).

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