Facebook can correctly identify someone’s sexuality after they have liked just three pages, academics have claimed.
A new study has highlighted how the social network monitors users’ behaviour to reveal key facts about their personality, including whether they are ‘gullible, introverted, female, a drug user, or gay’.
The study was produced by researchers from Columbia Business School, Northeastern University and New York University.
It explored whether a process called ‘cloaking’ can help to stop Facebook learning about people by studying what they have liked on the social network.
The team wrote: ‘While some users might choose to take actions on the social platform that suggest or reveal that they are gay, some may not wish for this information to be available to advertisers or others drawing automatic inferences based on online user behaviour.
‘Users who prefer not to share this personal status even with their friends may not want it to be predicted by the system.
‘Furthermore, a user who is in fact not gay may not want an incorrect inference to be drawn about him or her.’
The study also claimed people who liked pages about Lady Gaga, the Human Rights Campaign, Harry Potter and the television show True Blood were likely to be identified as gay.
Facebook makes money by selling advertising based on its guesses about what individual users are interested in.
This means that everything you do on Facebook is analysed so firms can send you adverts you’re likely to engage with.
However, the authors of the report said this could breach people’s privacy and said ‘cloaking’ could help to make sure Facebook doesn’t know too much about its users.
‘While some online users may benefit from being targeted based on inferences of their personal characteristics, others may find such inferences unsettling,’ they added.
‘Some users may not wish to have certain characteristics inferred at all.’
The team said these ‘privacy invasions’ could be ‘troublesome’.