'Liking' on Facebook? It Could Cost You

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — If you’re predisposed to “liking” a lot of things on Facebook, watch out: You could be opening the vault for anyone to take a look, figure out your interests and act accordingly.

By “act accordingly,” that could mean you’ll soon be inundated with unwanted direct marketing offers, including product and political ads geared to your “Likes.” Or it could mean identity thieves gathering data on your personal interests and possibly using it to compromise your credit card or bank account.

Sounds like a bit much?

Not really — not after research from the University of Cambridge says that virtually anyone can compromise your personal privacy by engaging in what researchers call “innocuous digital behavior” resulting in “high levels of accuracy” by online foragers.

The Cambridge data focus on those ubiquitous Facebook likes — information widely available to anyone who wants it.

Through “automatic analysis of Facebook likes,” con artists, marketers or any stranger can accurately assess your race, age, IQ, sexuality, personality, likelihood of substance use and political views. Cambridge researchers say it is easy to gather highly sensitive information that can be used against you.

The study tracked 58,000 U.S. Facebook users and focused on their likes, demographic profiles and personality traits revealed on the popular social networking website. Cambridge analysts fed the data accumulated into algorithms, with surprising results. The models were:

  • 88% accurate in determining male sexuality.
  • 95% accurate in distinguishing white Americans from black Americans.
  • 85% accurate in distinguishing Republicans from Democrats.
  • 82% accurate in separating Christians from Muslims.
  • And had up to a 73% accuracy rate in figuring out relationship status and substance abuse.

Facebook users are hardly revealing all this information directly.

The Cambridge study says it was easy to draw “inferences” from likes. For example, while only 5% of gay users directly clicked on “gay marriage” as a like, a majority of users could be identified as gay by likes regarding cultural themes such as movies, music and television shows. That’s valuable information for political campaigns and media advertisers, Cambridge researchers say.

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