What Your “Likes” Say About You

If you like Dollar General, you probably have a lot of friends. At least, that’s what a recent study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) suggests.

The PNAS is a scientific journal, publishing over three thousand research papers annually. The study’s focus was to see how the rise of a more personalized online experience and targeted product marketing is effecting the use of online data.

“We show that easily accessible digital records of behavior, Facebook Likes, can be used to automatically and accurately predict a range of highly sensitive personal attributes,” the study says.

The group conducted the research by analyzing the Facebook “likes” of 58,466 American Facebook users. These “likes” were paired with demographic information to form a profile for a person. By having a list of what a person likes and who a person is, the researchers were able to find similarities between people with similar demographic traits. Sexual orientation, ethnicity, intelligence, and religious views are just some of the demographic traits analyzed.

PNAS Graphic
A chart via the PNAS study showing the percentiles of how each demographic’s “likes” different subjects.

“This study demonstrates the degree to which relatively basic digital records of human behavior can be used to automatically and accurately estimate a wide range of personal attributes that people would typically assume to be private,” the study says.

Some of the study’s results are that the participants who “like” Harley Davidson, Tyler Perry, and Jason Aldean are more likely exhibit the trait of a low IQ. Another is that participants who “like” The Bible, Indiana Jones, and Swimming tend to be part of the group more satisfied with their lives.

PNAS Graphic
A bracket via the PNAS study showing “likes” and their correlation to how many friends a person has.

The study says a lot about digital marketing. The more companies know about the interests of a user, the more the company can infer about the other needs and traits of that person. The study also touches on the negative effects of the results, citing that the use of this research can be problematic for those hoping to keep certain attributes private.

The study states, “Commercial companies, governmental institutions, or even one’s Facebook friends could use software to infer attributes such as intelligence, sexual orientation, or political views that an individual may not have intended to share.”

It sounds like something pulled out of science fiction. Predictability in marketing, advertisements catered to the individual, all by using data pulled from your online activity.

With a growing database of online users, the world of digital marketing has the potential to pinpoint products to specific people. As more research is done on the correlation between “likes” and demographic traits, the more access companies will have to potential users. The researchers hope that trust and transparency can be maintained by both users and companies “leading to an individually controlled balance between the promises and perils of the Digital Age.”

You can read the full study here.



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