Just how private are your privacy settings?

Even with the most private of privacy settings there’s a wealth of information known about us without us even realising it. An article in the New Scientist sheds more light on the information social networks know about us which they are reluctant to reveal.

‘Mind-reading algorithms’ which make use of machine learning techniques and network theory can find ‘unseen relationships between network nodes’ and are responsible for allowing our data to be available to those outside those to whom we have designated permissions. We can already see how Facebook or LinkedIn can identify links to friends we aren’t linked with. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. In 2010 researchers at Facebook demonstrated they could locate two thirds of their users to 40km by identifying where their friends live. Today this can now be pinpointed to only 100m if just 9 friends attach GPS tags to their tweets.

Jennifer Golbeck at University of Maryland has also explored the language used in tweets, blogs etc. to reveal personality traits. Based on psychological definitions she found some revealing data. For example, conscientious people used more colons; people who tweeted about eating were more agreeable; and those who over-used words like ‘earning’ and ‘winning’ were less pleasant. It’s becoming increasingly hard for us to know exactly what conclusions are being made about us – and how that information will be used.

On a positive note this data can be used to help determine illnesses like depression. Work being undertaken at MIT suggests this information can be obtained from mobile data and could be especially useful in determining the health of the older generation – a possible opportunity for marketers to provide a genuine service to audiences.

The challenge facing us all is how to safeguard our privacy when algorithms can pick up statistical patterns in our behavior that we are not even aware of. We have the choice of allowing businesses to track our movements, relationships and even our emotional state of mind. Or we can give up using social networks completely – which, I’m sure, for most of us isn’t really an option.

David Harris is Executive Creative Director at Wunderman UK

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