Can Your Facebook Likes Give Away Your Identity?

Many Facebook users worry about their personal identities being compromised on the social network through unfortunate photos or tagged posts. But a University of Cambridge study shows that it’s possible to gain information such as political affiliation and ethnicity just from seeing Facebook users’ likes. Social security firm Secure.me also published a top 10 list of the Facebook applications that require this information when users connect to them.

Researchers from Cambridge analyzed the Facebook likes of more than 58,000 U.S. users, finding that the pages they’ve liked actually painted accurate pictures of who the users were.

The study shows that the likes proved 88 percent accurate in determining male sexuality, 95 percent accurate in distinguishing African-American from Caucasian, and 85 percent accurate in finding out if Facebook users were Democrats or Republicans.

Additionally, Christians and Muslims were identified in 82 percent of cases. Relationship statuses (65 percent) and substance abusers (73 percent) were also evident from Facebook likes. Researchers could even determine with 60 percent accuracy whether or not users’ parents separated before they turned 21.

The study also revealed some nonsensical correlations. Those who liked curly fries tended to have higher IQs, while people who like the page That Spider Is More Scared Than U are often non-smokers.

Michal Kosinski, operations director at Cambridge’s Psychometric Centre, commented on the study:

I am a great fan and active user of new amazing technologies, including Facebook. I appreciate automated book recommendations, or Facebook selecting the most relevant stories for my news feed. 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. Users need to be provided with transparency and control over their information.

In light of this study, Secure.me posted the 10 most popular Facebook apps that require information from users’ likes in order to connect. Secure.me’s Marina Ziegler wrote that roughly 10 percent of apps require this kind of knowledge.

  1. Yahoo* more than 10 million users per month
  2. Pinterest more than 10 million
  3. TripAdvisor* more than 10 million
  4. Causes* more than 5 million
  5. Zoosk more than 5 million
  6. Pandora more than 5 million
  7. Etsy* more than 1 million
  8. Groupon* more than 1 million
  9. Hulu more than 1 million
  10. Amazon* more than 1 million

*These apps don’t only access users’ likes, but also their friends’ likes.

Readers: What steps do you take to protect your identity on Facebook?

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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