What you Like on Facebook could reveal more than you think

Before you Like a funny post or comment, think about what it could do to your privacy

Before you "like" a friend's or company's post on Facebook, think twice. A new study shows that your Facebook "likes" may be far more revealing than you ever thought.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge in the U.K. announced on Monday that a new study shows that users' Likes on Facebook alone accurately indicate their race, age, IQ, sexuality, personality, substance use and political views.

The study also notes that Facebook Likes could be used to extract sensitive information about almost anyone regularly using Facebook, which is the largest social network, with more than 1 billion global users.

"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 newsfeed," said Michal Kosinski, operations director at the university's Psychometric Centre and a researcher in the study. "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."

Using an algorithm, researchers analyzed the data from more than 58,000 U.S. Facebook users, who volunteered their Likes, demographic profiles and personality tests. They were able to accurately predict males' sexuality 88% of the time, distinguish African-Americans from Caucasian Americans 95% of the time, and tell the difference between Democrats and Republicans 85% of the time.

The researchers also said that they could use Likes to predict a user's relationship status 65% of the time, and if there was a substance abuse problem 73% of the time.

All of this could be a threat to users' privacy, the rsearchers said, noting that governments, companies and individuals could use their own predictive software to analyze users' Likes information and get more personal information about people than they had meant to reveal.

"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," said Kosinski. "Users need to be provided with transparency and control over their information."

Just last month, a study came out showing that Facebook users often cause trouble in their own relationships, by posting too many intimate details on the social networking site.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed. Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

See more by Sharon Gaudin on Computerworld.com.

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