Facebook: Sketchy revelations from the things you 'Like'

If you want to look smart on the social network, according to Cambridge researchers, forget the eyeglasses and show your love for curly fries

A "like" symbol outside the Facebook headquarters in California
(Image credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Every few months, Facebook changes its privacy rules on its billion-plus users, and many of those users get upset, often with good reason. Facebook, after all, is trying to make money from your information, as the price of providing you a free service. A new study from Britain's Cambridge University has some unsettling news, though, for any Facebookers who believe that diligent management of who can see their status updates, photos, and personal information will keep their secrets safe from prying eyes.

The innocent-seeming "Like" button — one of the most basic tools of Facebook, and one that's public by default — is essentially a giant personality test that can reveal a frightening amount of information about who you are and what you're like, the Cambridge researchers reported Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Just by checking out what somebody Liked, they were able to accurately predict whether the user is white or black 95 percent of the time, male or female 93 percent of the time, Democrat or Republican in 85 percent of cases, Muslim or Christian 82 percent of the time, and whether a man is gay 88 percent of the time or a woman is a lesbian with 75 percent accuracy. To a lesser extent, they could tell if you smoke, if you use drugs, and if your parents separated before you were 21.

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Peter Weber, The Week US

Peter has worked as a news and culture writer and editor at The Week since the site's launch in 2008. He covers politics, world affairs, religion and cultural currents. His journalism career began as a copy editor at a financial newswire and has included editorial positions at The New York Times Magazine, Facts on File, and Oregon State University.