Did you know that your Facebook likes predict preferences? And people study them!
Margaret Weigel‘s article, “Facebook, Private Traits, and Attributes,” cites research conducted at Cambridge and Microsoft that Facebook can accurately tell a person’s traits and innermost personal details.
By one’s online activity, they could accurately predict religion, sex, sexual orientation, and political ideologies from liking a certain TV show or artist. Yet, I will add that for years, Facebook nearly required its users to self-identify with nearly all of those categories.
As soon as one becomes a user, it prompts you to state if you are male or female, etc. While it is disconcerting that Facebook knows so much, we pretty much told them everything about us out of the gate.
Yes, this study was much more than people checking boxes about themselves. It studied user behavior. This further proves that the way we consume social media is just an extension of our everyday lives.
If someone votes for President Obama in an election and places the bumper sticker on back of a vehicle, it’s not surprising that liking certain shared links would also reflect that candidate preference. It’s context clues.
What scares people though is how Facebook intends to use that data. It’s one thing for my family to know who I am, it’s another for companies to send me “Burton-specific” deals, ads, and offers. Smart? Absolutely.
Is it enough that this company is worth billions? If Facebook quit raking in money tomorrow, it could probably sell our information piecemeal to others for decades and still be worth billions. Such personal information is invaluable, especially when they didn’t have to work or bribe their users to obtain it.
A poor graduate student didn’t have to beg folks to take a survey. Facebook simply let people loose on its playground and watched…and saved everything like a depression-era family.
Right now, campaign managers rely on dated census information and voting records to determine who to mail for certain primaries. In the near future, I bet anyone will be able to buy lists from Facebook for the purpose of targeting ads. “I want to buy an ad that’s just visible to all users with Democrat-tendencies in the Memphis area.” Presto!
This is more efficient, probably comes with more purchasing power, and online content can be uploaded or removed in seconds (unlike a mailer with a typo). Facebook might already be doing this, but it’s not spelled out that clearly to me. Comment below if you know.
In sum, as a new blogger with a geographic and generational focus, this information could help me grow MemphisMaverick’s visibility. I could specifically target a niche audience with ads, shares, and links that would be of interest to certain users.
So, while some denounce Facebook’s tactics, I think it’s too powerful to be declining anytime soon, especially with its monstrous pocketbook and ability to acquire trendy apps like Instagram.