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On What Facebook Knows--An Interview With the Man Behind Facebook's Personality Experiment

Michal Kosinski, co-lead researcher for a study of how people's Facebook activity could be used to measure their psychological profiles.

Michal Kosinski, co-lead researcher on a study by the University of Cambridge and Stanford University, discusses how individuals' Facebook activity can be used to measure their pyschological profiles.

Credit: Social Media Today

Earlier this year, researchers from the University of Cambridge and Stanford University released a report detailing how people's Facebook activity could be used to measure their psychological profile with surprising accuracy. In an interview, Michal Kosinski, one of the co-lead researchers responsible for the study, discusses its results and implications.

The researchers' experiment involved developing an app that administered a psychological questionnaire and also tracked Facebook activity. About 86,000 participants used the app, and Kosinski says many of the findings were surprising. Facebook likes could, for example, predict whether or not a given user's parents were divorced, their smoking and drinking habits, and sexual orientation, as well as religious and political views.

"Actually, everything we tried predicting was predictable, to a degree, and quite often it was very accurate," Kosinski says.

However, he notes the most profound insights required multiple datapoints. Although knowing how many times a person logged into Facebook could be revealing, Kosinski says that data was only useful when it was accompanied by other data, which enables "predictive systems to establish very accurate profiles of who you are."

He notes his experience with the study has not changed his own personal use of Facebook or social media, although he does think there are ways companies could give users more direct control over what information is being gathered about them.

From Social Media Today
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Abstracts Copyright © 2015 Information Inc., Bethesda, Maryland, USA


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