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Research – Digital records could expose intimate details and personality traits of millions

“New research, published today in the journal PNAS, shows that surprisingly accurate estimates of Facebook users’ race, age, IQ, sexuality, personality, substance use and political views can be inferred from automated analysis of only their Facebook Likes – information currently publicly available by default. In the study, researchers describe Facebook Likes as a “generic class” of digital record – similar to web search queries and browsing histories – and suggest that such techniques could be used to extract sensitive information for almost anyone regularly online. Researchers at Cambridge’s Psychometrics Centre, in collaboration with Microsoft Research Cambridge, analysed a dataset of over 58,000 US Facebook users, who volunteered their Likes, demographic profiles and psychometric testing results through the myPersonality application…The researchers also tested for personality traits including intelligence, emotional stability, openness and extraversion. While such latent traits are far more difficult to gauge, the accuracy of the analysis was striking. Study of the openness trait – the spectrum of those who dislike change to those who welcome it – revealed that observation of Likes alone is roughly as informative as using an individual’s actual personality test score.”

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