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Facebook 'Likes' Leave a Personal Trail, Study Warns
Date:3/12/2013

By Barbara Bronson Gray
HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, March 11 (HealthDay News) -- It's relatively easy to learn a lot about Facebook users -- from their political views and gender to their intelligence, race and sexual orientation -- by following their clicks, new British research reports.

Just clicking that you "like" something on Facebook leaves a virtual but lasting fingerprint of who you are, information that can be gathered and analyzed by marketers, credit agencies, companies, potential employers, politicians or the government, the researchers said.

Facebook "likes" and other digital records, such as Google browsing histories, are easily retrievable and can be used to create an accurate and revealing portrait of a person, said Michal Kosinski, lead study author and operations director of the Psychometrics Center at the University of Cambridge in England.

"I can tell you with confidence that I can predict who you are without you telling me anything at all, just from your Facebook 'likes,'" he added.

Clicking "like" on Facebook postings allows users to publicly express their positive association with online content, such as Facebook pages of restaurants, products, photos, quotes, musicians, sports figures, actors, organizations and movies.

Most people are unaware they are leaving a highly personal information trail, Kosinski said. Unlike data that most people guard carefully -- such as medical history or financial information -- "liking" something on Facebook seems casual and relatively unimportant to the user. What's surprising is that sensitive inferences can be drawn by organizations from seemingly non-sensitive data, he said.

Sophisticated data-gathering operations can analyze just about any information someone shares, said Lillie Coney, associate director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a public interest research organization in Washington, D.C.

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