What Facebook Likes Say About You

What Facebook Likes Say About You

By: Katy Ryan Schamberger
May 9, 2013

what facebook likes say about youClicking on that Facebook Like button has become an ubiquitous way to express our approval or support for all the good stuff we see in our digital world. Yet have you ever stopped to think about what you might be revealing about yourself with that seemingly innocent little click?

A recent report into the predictability of human behavior from digital records, published by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, proved to be fascinating reading on that very subject. This insightful analysis, based on results from over 58,000 volunteers, concluded that, “a wide variety of people’s personal attributes, ranging from sexual orientation to intelligence, can be automatically and accurately inferred using their Facebook Likes.” Interesting—and just a little frightening, right? (Kind of makes me want to never like another cat video again!)

The study analyzed volunteer-provided Facebook likes, along with detailed demographic profiles and the results of several psychometric tests. The tested traits included age, gender, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, religion, political views and intelligence. Some less obvious traits such as “satisfaction with life,” substance abuse and “whether your parents stayed together” were also measured.

Intrigued, aren’t you? Here’s a glance at some of the more interesting insights:

  • The highest accuracy was achieved for ethnic origin; African Americans and Caucasian Americans were correctly classified in 95% of cases.
  • Gender was correctly assessed in 93% of cases.
  • Christians and Muslims were correctly classified in 82% of cases, and similar results were achieved for Democrats and Republicans (85%).
  • Sexual orientation was easier to distinguish among males (88%) than females (75%).
  • Smokers (73%), alcohol drinkers (70%) and drug takers (65%) were all identified at surprisingly high rates.
  • More intangible personality traits such as emotional stability, openness and conscientiousness scored at a lower rate when compared to personality tests, but were still statistically significant.

I’m not shy about admitting that I’m a data geek (not on Shelly’s level, of course, but I’m getting there)—and even I was surprised at just how much information (and accurate info, at that) could be identified just from Facebook likes. Any web user today is leaving an increasingly large trail of personal information across the Internet—and you can now count Facebook likes among that group of identifying info.

What will be even more interesting to watch is if Facebook ends up monetizing that data. Sure, it could be a goldmine for any marketer who wants to be able to better target prospects through advertising and content. On the other hand, I could see this sort of report sending Facebook privacy fanatics running for the hills—or at least never liking anything on Facebook. Ever.

If you’re as interested in this subject as I am, be sure you take a look at the full report—it’s well worth the read, I promise. And when you’re done, head back over here and let me know your thoughts. Do you see an upside in determining personal information just from Facebook likes? Or do you think this could be a potentially negative use of Facebook data?

Image: Victor De la Rocha via Compfight cc

  • Incredible study Shelly and excellent post. A couple of thoughts.

    What does “what you do not like” infer? For instance, there are 20 posts in your news feed. You like one on food, two on photos of a party, on on an ant gun post, but ignore one on same sex marriage? What we do not “like” provides as much, if not more, information as what we do like.

    The there are comments. What we say about a topic is packed with more data than a simple like.

    Clearly, Google+ is learning even more than Facebook. Gmail, our blog posts, comments on every social network, shopping, searches, Google Docs, Calendar, their endless tentacles of apps.

    The close of the study is what got my attention: “the relevance of marketing and product recommendations could be improved by adding psychological
    dimensions to current user models. For example, online insurance
    advertisements might emphasize security when facing emotionally
    unstable (neurotic) users but stress potential threats when dealing
    with emotionally stable ones.”

    Advertising has always used similar psychology, but personalizing is is well, too personal.

  • ShellyKramer

    It is very personal, Gary. And equally frightening and fascinating. And you’re absolutely correct in saying that what we don’t like provides as much information about us as what we do like.

  • I am reminded of a sitcom character talking about TiVo some 10 years ago… “My TiVo thinks I’m gay” This became often repeated around my house every time the Smart tuner in TiVo recorded something odd.

    As I recall, TiVo did a pretty good job… Most of the time. Seems natural programming would be better now with the mountains of data we But an Internet search will reveal that I’m 109 years old (thank you MySpace)

  • ShellyKramer

    Still cracking up over the 109 years old comment, Warren.

  • I just had a conversation on my sister’s Facebook page. I said something about sarcasm and she responded “Jackass”

    I don’t think an algorithm will be able to understand her in my lifetime.. even if I live to be 109

  • This could be used in a positive way. Understanding that an actress is crazy, we might limit what pharmaceutical ads she gets to see

  • ShellyKramer

    LOL. And wouldn’t that be wonderful! You just keep ’em coming, Warren!

  • ShellyKramer

    Well, who needs an algorithm to understand that? Clearly you ARE a jackass. Shall we take a poll? And we don’t need to ask your sister–we already know her answer.

  • maybe not quite as funny… Target does such a good job of predicting when a woman is going to get pregnant that they accidentally sent a teenager ads targeted to prenatal needs. Her father went ballistic… Until he found out his minor child was pregnant

    And the shopping cart manufacturer was experimenting with ads on the cart tailored to the buying history of the rewards card holder. Trouble is, they assign one per household and there was shock, dismay, and utter horror when people learned that spouses and children would be presented specials on what others bought last week

    the conclusion for grocery stores was that this level of data does not have to be presented to a customer to help them. A manager can see that a dozen shoppers like fish and decide whether to markdown fish before it goes bad… Choosing the number based on data

    Individualized personal data doesn’t have to be creepy

  • ShellyKramer

    I remember that story and all the craziness that ensued. We’ve actually had, and used, a ton of data for a long time. And it can be done without the creepiness factor. You just have to want to do it right, no?

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