Interests are a key indicator of personality traits and outside the world of cyberspace, interests help people interact and find common ground.
On Facebook, you can “like” something to indicate your interest. There are those users who never ‘like’ anything and those who seem to ‘like’ everything. Does that matter? Does a Facebook “Like” reveal anything about a person, other than helping Facebook target ads to the user? Do parents want ads targeted to their teen?
Researchers at the University of Cambridge and Microsoft Research collected data to uncover much about Facebook users and what categories they fit into, based on their likes. Surprisingly accurate, the results tell more than you might expect. The data does more than simply stereotype people.
Research aside, Facebook is now using ‘likes’ in a recently launched feature, Graph Search. This search tool allows someone in Facebook to search for specific things amongst their friends and friends of friends. As such, a teen is potentially exposed to contact from “friends of friends” (i.e., people they don’t really know) based on things they have ‘liked’ in the past.
For example, with Graph Search, you can search amongst friends of friends for “people that like beer.” If a teen ever ‘liked’ beer or a beer commercial or anything beer related, whether they drink or not, it might lead to getting contacted by others who do drink beer. (Or, just fill in the blank here on the issue of most concern to a parent.)
In the case of the study cited above, researchers found that if you were to “like” the The Joy of Painting with Bob Ross, it doesn’t necessarily indicate gender, age or an interest in art. It can be “one of several indicators that it’s likely that your parents didn’t separate before you turned 21.” On the other hand, liking ‘Austin, Texas’ could be combined with other likes to indicate you have an issue with drug use.
Not everyone on Facebook spends time with “Likes” and it can be difficult to diagnose a person strictly from their “Likes.” “Similar predictions could be made from all manner of digital data,” says Michal Kosinski, “statistically predicting sensitive information people might not want revealed.”
It’s not clear yet what can be done with such a prediction tool. However, Facebook is using ‘likes’ right now to target its users in Graph Search and for ads.
Parents should discuss the concept of “likes” with their kids to make them aware of the possibility of the data being used for targeting ads, but also to point out that your digital footprint includes things you ‘like’ – if you choose to tell everyone what you ‘like.’