Freakin’ Facebook. I know, I know: it perpetuates drama, makes our relationships shallow and impersonal, and wastes your valuable time showing you images of your best friend’s second cousin once removed’s new baby, but did you know that Facebook literally knows you better than you know yourself?
A joint study coming out of the combined smartness of the University of Cambridge and Stanford University shows that what you’ve “liked” on Facebook can allow a computer to predict 5 major personality traits better than not only work colleagues, but friends and family. In some cases, the computer was a better predictor than the study participant’s spouse.
That red line on the graph is the accuracy of the computer, the gray indicators illustrate how many “likes” are necessary for the computer to match the accuracy of different human judges.
And not only can the computer predict your personality, it can also predict your behavior. Sometimes, it can predict your behavior better than you can. Oh yeah, that is totally fucked up right there.
On this graph, the blue line is the accuracy of the computer. The red bar represents self reporting. So, in cases where the blue bar appears to the right of the red, the computer can predict your behavior better than you can. So what are those other bars? Well, the yellow bar represents the judgement of other people you know. In the categories where the blue bar is shorter on the left than the yellow bar: the computer predicted your behaviour better than your friends and close family. Seriously. If social networks become sentient we are all screwed.
Some of these make sense: your social network activities and the size of your extended social network seem like attributes that would be predictable to a computer using only your Facebook likes – liking friends’ status updates and images would surely be discernible to a simple algorithm. But that a computer can recognize that you are depressed, or drink too much…
Imagine a figure that accurately predicts how impulsive you are being sold to your insurance company, or as part of your credit score.
Want to be more frightened? Keep in mind that this data is not safely held by some government organization that at least pretends to have your best interest at heart. This is information that is held by a corporation that has already promised it has no problem selling aggregated data.
And this is not a small and obscure study with a handful of participants: the original sample was made up of 70,520 participants. The investigators found that a minimum of 100 likes provided a level of accuracy comparable to that of close friends and family, and that with more likes the predictions became even more accurate. With 1.3 billion objects, interests, posts and endeavors available to “like” on Facebook, that’s not exactly a high bar. If Facebook can predict your personality and behavior better than you can, maybe it is time to stop feeding its gaping maw. Think twice before you “like” Band-Aids or Heinz Ketchup ever again.
The study cited throughout this paper is: Wu Youyou, Michal Kosinski, and David Stillwell (Jan. 12, 2014)”Computer-based personality judgments are more accurate than those made by humans” Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA
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