Project ‘Gaydar’ is an MIT experiment which shows its possible to reveal personal information such as sexuality even though the information not is published in any networked public. Here is an overview of the experiment as it was reported in The Boston Globe.
A group of MIT researchers was interested in three things people frequently fill in on their social network profile: their gender, a category called “interested in” that they took to denote sexuality, and their friend links.
Using that information, they “trained” a computer program, analyzing the friend links of 1,544 men who said they were straight, 21 who said they were bisexual, and 33 who said they were gay.
Then they did the same analysis on 947 men who did not report their sexuality. The analysis seemed to work in identifying gay men, but the same technique was not as successful with bisexual men or women, or lesbians.
The Homophily Principle
The idea of making assumptions about people by looking at their relationships is not new, but the sudden availability of information online means the field’s powerful tools can now be applied to just about anyone. For years, sociologists have known of the “homophily principle” – the tendency for similar people to group together.
Murat Kantarcioglu, an assistant professor of computer science at the University of Texas at Dallas, found he could make decent predictions about a person’s political affiliation knowing what groups people belonged to or their favorite music, were quite predictive of political affiliation.
Researchers at the University of Maryland, College Park wanted to see what private information they could glean by simply looking at things like groups people belonged to, and their friendship links on four social networks: Facebook, the photo-sharing website Flickr, an online network for dog owners called Dogster, and BibSonomy, in which people tag bookmarks and publications.
Researchers could predict where Flickr users lived; Facebook users’ gender, a dog’s breed, and whether someone was likely to be a spammer on BibSonomy.
The media’s perspective on privacy
Privacy has become a growing and evolving concern as social networks learn how to deal with the fact that they provide a resource that brings people together, but also may endanger privacy in ways they did not anticipate.
Even if you don’t affirmatively post revealing information, simply publishing your friends’ list may reveal sensitive information about you, or it may lead people to make assumptions about you that are incorrect.
“You can do damage to your reputation with social networking data, and other people can do damage to you. I do think that there’s been a very fast learning curve – people are quickly learning the dos and don’ts of Internet behavior,” said Jason Kaufman, a research fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University who is studying a set of Facebook data.
“Potentially everything you ever do on the Internet will live forever. I like to think we’ll all learn to give each other a little more slack for our indiscretions and idiosyncrasies,” said Jason Kaufman.
Note: The text is from the article about project Gaydar from The Boston Globe. I just rearranged it.