Facebook ‘Likes’ Reveal Intimate, Personal Details About People

Researchers are able to predict your personality, sexual orientation, even substance abuse, based on your Facebook "likes."

Facebook likes studies reveal the reasons behind data breach.
Julia Tim / Shutterstock

Researchers are able to predict your personality, sexual orientation, even substance abuse, based on your Facebook "likes."

In the wake of the disastrous Facebook data breach of over 50 million users, people are discovering the side of Facebook that seemingly only advertisers cared about, until now: the data.

In 2013, the Guardian reported on a study that was published by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, also known as PNAS. This study showed that just analyzing a person’s Facebook “likes” is enough for someone to be able to “statistically predict” people’s personal details. They noted the following.

“Facebook Likes, can be used to automatically and accurately predict a range of highly sensitive personal attributes including: sexual orientation, ethnicity, religious and political views, personality traits, intelligence, happiness, use of addictive substances, parental separation, age, and gender.”

The study, which analyzed over 58,000 volunteers’ Facebook pages, revealed some strange and interesting conclusions.

“The best predictors of high intelligence include “Thunderstorms,” “The Colbert Report,” “Science,” and “Curly Fries,” whereas low intelligence was indicated by “Sephora,” “I Love Being A Mom,” “Harley Davidson,” and “Lady Antebellum.”

Most recently in November 2017, PNAS published another study on “psychological mass persuasion.” The Observer detailed how researchers could use one Facebook “like” from a user to accurately target ads to them. The targeting wasn’t just for broad demographics, like male or female. Instead, it targeted people specifically on a person’s personality, like whether someone is an introvert or an extrovert. The study showed the effectiveness of providing one ad for extroverts and another for introverts. In fact, researchers saw an increase of up to 40 percent more clicks and up to 50 percent more purchases when using personality-driven targeted ads.

Facebook allowed developers to create apps with algorithms.
  Wright Studio / Shutterstock

The main problem with the nature of Facebook “likes,” is that a lot of the information that is predicted about a user is not explicitly shared by the user themselves. Unfortunately, many companies exploited this problem to their advantage, including Cambridge Analytica.

One Facebook whistleblower, Sandy Parakilas, said that there were “tens or maybe even hundreds of thousands of developers” who took advantage of Facebook’s data policies between 2007 and mid-2014. During this time, developers were able to access Facebook users’ data, along with all of their friends’ data without the consent of the friends, according to the Guardian.

Although the study from 2013 was published around five years ago, the findings are just now becoming well-known to the average user. It warned of the exact problem that people are grappling with now.

“There is a risk that the growing awareness of digital exposure may negatively affect people’s experience of digital technologies, decrease their trust in online services, or even completely deter them from using digital technology.”

And just as it warned, the awareness of digital exposure has affected the perception of Facebook for many users. The #DeleteFacebook movement continues to gain supporters, including the WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton. Other people are announcing on Twitter in large numbers about deleting their Facebook account.