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Have you unwittingly revealed secrets just by ‘liking’ on Facebook?

It’s official – the bods at Facebook know if you’re neurotic, you’ve got a high IQ and you’re guilty secret is a love of One Direction.

A study has revealed that by ‘liking’ posts or joining groups, Facebook users are revealing more about themselves than they realise and it’s an unsettling thought. From drug use to political standpoints, sexuality to IQ – activity on the world’s biggest social media platform is very telling according to Microsoft Research, which studied publically-available data from 58,000 users in the US.

Cambridge University analyst and report author Michal Kosinski found patterns that revealed personal details, including traits and preferences that in some cases had been deliberately hidden from public view by users.

Of his fascinating findings, Kosinski said: “Everyone carries around their Facebook ‘likes’, their browsing history and their search history, trusting that it will be used [by corporations] to predict their movies or music tastes.

“But if you ask about governments, I am not sure people would like them to predict things like religion or sexuality, especially in less peaceful or illiberal countries,” he added.

He makes a very good point.

While the results of the study might make for uncomfortable reading, it proves that we can’t ‘like’ our cake, eat it and not expect to get fat.

The cake

Take Google for instance, its clever algorithms are constantly being developed to give users the most personalised search results possible, based on web activity, whether or not you have a gmail account (and therefore whether you’re signed in when you’re browsing or not) and, increasingly, on what you and your friends and connections are doing, liking, recommending and sharing on social media platforms. The outputs are Google Instant – the suggestions that drop down as you type in the search box and the results you get before you press ‘Enter’, and Personalised Search – the results you see based on search history and identified habits and preferences.

Liking it and eating it

These features are useful, they speed things up and generally improve the relevancy of what you see on page one, and for most people Google’s activity behind the screen goes unnoticed. However, should the search engine take these away, there’s no doubt we’d notice and probably not be very happy.

Getting fat

So we take this use of our data as a given, in the main we like how it’s used and we don’t question it, but using the same algorithms to identify personal information and traits could spark outrage, despite it being the result of the same theories and the same technology behind those features we love.

So, how do you feel about being categorised based on what you ‘like’ on Facebook? And did you know that you’re already seeing targeted adverts based on your age, ‘likes’ and the words you’ve used to describe yourself in your profile? Leave us your thoughts in the comments box (we promise not to use your views to send you stuff we think you’ll like).

Sample results from the study, as published at thedrum.com:

High IQ
The Godfather
Lord of the Rings
The Daily Show

Low IQ
Harley Davidson
I Love Being a Mom
Tyler Perry

Homosexual Males
Wicked the Musical
No H8 Campaign
Human Rights Campaign

Homosexual Females
Not Being Pregnant
The L Word
Sometimes I Just Lay in Bed and Think About Life 

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