Sunday, June 17, 2012

Facebook knows your details—even if you're not on Facebook

According to a recently published paper in the open access journal PLoS One, some people "choose to stay away from social network platforms such as Facebook in the belief that this will help protect their privacy. In this article, we show that such an assumption is no longer valid: with the help of machine learning, social network operators can make predictions regarding the acquaintance or lack thereof between two non-members with a high rate of success."*

And if Facebook and other social network platforms can predict your friends, they can predict many other things about you: your income, age, marital status, political preferences, health status, sexual orientation, and much more—even if you have never been a member.

An interview with one of the paper's authors, computer scientist Katharina Anna Zweig, is available on the IEEE Spectrum website. As host Steven Cherry says in his introduction, "It’s been known for a while that Facebook makes a shadow profile of people it learns about who aren’t on Facebook"; this paper shows that it is likely that those profiles are highly detailed. Privacy is no longer simply a quaint concept—it's impossible.

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* Horvát E-Á, Hanselmann M, Hamprecht FA, Zweig KA. (2012). One plus one makes three (for social networks). PLoS ONE 7(4): e34740. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0034740

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