For many of us, Facebook has permeated into many corners of our lives. In my case, I use it for staying in touch with friends and family scattered across the country. But I also use it for work, as the Yuma Sun has a Facebook page that we use to share what's going on, both at the newspaper and across Yuma.
In fact, several of us share the Facebook duties, which leads to conversations about Facebook in general and how it functions. And one thing we all noticed recently was how spot-on the advertising is on the site.
One co-worker who loves a specific type of food said that lately, he's been noticing targeted ads for that type of restaurant.
Another who has a professed love of both coffee and shoes notices ads that cater specifically to those items, although she rarely posts about either.
So how does Facebook know to choose those specific ads for you? It all has to do with what an individual “likes” on the site. People often will click the “like” button on a variety of topics. Funny photo from a friend? “Like.” Favorite baseball team? “Like.”
But those likes add up to reveal more than we realize, researchers say.
A recent study has found that what a user likes actually defines an individual fairly accurately – including religious affiliation, drug use, sexual orientation, political preferences … even down to whether or not one's parents had divorced, according to LiveScience.com. In fact, it was 93 percent accurate when predicting gender, and 85 percent accurate on political party membership.
Researchers at the University of Cambridge collected Facebook users' personal traits with an app, and developed an algorithm that deduced which likes corresponded to which traits, the LiveScience.com article said.
Some of the indicators were a bit unusual. Those with higher intelligence were discovered to be fans of curly fries and “The Colbert Report,” LiveScience reports, while those with lower intelligence liked Sephora and Harley Davidson.
On one hand, it's a fascinating study of society – a single click is an indicator of who you are.
On the other hand though, it's a little terrifying to know that all of that information on such a personal level is aggregated and accessible so easily. As the main researcher, Michal Kosinski, points out, a government somewhere could find a way to take advantage of the information, which could be troublesome.
There are a few ways users can protect themselves though. The first step is to remove third-party applications or developers that can access your profile. This refers to games such as Mob Wars or Farmville – if you aren't using it any more, get rid of it. Each of those products, when they have access to your profile, has access to your information as well.
The other most basic step is to be cautious about what you “like” via Facebook. The less you click the “Like” button, the less information there is to be gathered. However, the more you “like” on the site, the better Facebook can tailor a custom experience for you.
In the end, it all boils down to how much each user is comfortable sharing, and what experience one wants to have on Facebook.