If you “Like” Bret Michaels, Sephora and Harley-Davidson, you probably have a low IQ, reports Robert Lee Hotz in The Wall Street Journal (3/12/13). On the other hand, if you “Like” Mozart, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and curly fries, you’re probably a smart cookie. If you “Like” Huggies, Weight Watchers and Scrapbooking, you’re likely in a relationship. If you “Like” Maria Sharapova, “Hunger Games” and Sportsnation, you’re probably single. Those are some of the conclusions reached in a study of Facebook “Likes,” which gleaned all sorts of insights into personal characteristics.
“People who share the ‘Likes’ do not realize that they are sharing very private issues as well,” says Michal Kosinski of Cambridge University, who led “a study of 58,000 U.S. Facebook users.” Michal and his team “used demographic profiles, behavioral questionnaires and psychological tests volunteered by the users, and then correlated that with the ‘Likes’ of the volunteers had posted on the social-networking site … While far from perfect, the record of Facebook ‘Likes’ was in many ways as accurate as a personality test.”
Facebook’s Fred Wolens says this is “hardly surprising,” and it’s true that “marketers and social scientists have long used online information, from zip codes to musical tastes, to predict personal characteristics.” However, privacy activist Jeffrey Chester thinks the Facebook study should “set off privacy alarm bells.” NYU’s Helen Nissenbaum is also concerned: “When people today agree to volunteer information, they have no idea what can be inferred from that information,” she says. The study is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.