Gay or Not? Facebook Can Tell, Even If You Can’t

It’s a perpetual question – if you’re in a public forum like Facebook (and it is public – can we please remember that?) how much control do you have over your information?  Even if it’s information that you may be giving out unintentionally? It may be that we’re used to the idea of data mining for ad targeting purposes.  But once it can be mined for ad targeting it can be used for more nefarious purposes as well. A recent experiment done at MIT looked at Facebook friend profiles and predicted the likelihood of your religious affiliations, political preferences, and sexual orientation.  The experiment was called “Gaydar” for a reason.  Let’s say you’re in the closet.  Your interactions with your friends, and indeed, who your friends are in the first place, may prove to someone (the experimenters in this case, but otherwise, who knows?) that you’re actually gay. Bingo! You’re outed.  And what if you’re not gay and the evidence gathered proves that you are? “Even if you don’t affirmatively post revealing information, simply publishing your friends’ list may reveal sensitive information about you, or it may lead people to make assumptions about you that are incorrect,” says a senior staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Gives you some pause, doesn’t it?  This, and other experiments cited in an article in The Boston Globe, are at the forefront of using the wealth of information available as the web becomes more social in social analytics.  This is a not very new science that makes the assumption that your connections might tell more about you than you would tell about yourself.  http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2009/09/20/project_gaydar_an_mit_experiment_raises_new_questions_about_online_privacy/?page=full

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