One of the things I truly love to do when I travel is listen to audio books (my most recent was Go Set a Watchman) or NPR’s “This American Life” (my most recent was Petty Tyrant) or some kind of interesting and educational podcast. I am constantly learning by doing this and it exposes me to so many wonderful stories. The TED Radio Hour podcast that made it into the cue today kept me enthralled while I was traveling back from Jacksonville, Florida.
It was about the power of social media. But not the kind of power we typically think of such as reach or influence or voice. This talk was about the science and algorithms behind Target knowing to send a 15-year-old girl coupons for baby items two weeks before she even told her parents she was pregnant. Scary. But fascinating. The talk is given by the director of the Human-Computer Interaction Lab at the University of Maryland, Jennifer Golbeck. She studies how people use social media — and thinks about ways to improve their interactions.
The title of the talk is “The Curly Fry Conundrum: how social media “likes” say more than you might think.”
Golbeck says, “I have been able to build models that can predict all sorts of hidden attributes about all of you that you don’t even know you’re sharing.”
Retailers like Target for example have the purchasing history of hundreds of thousands of shoppers and they look at the history to determine potential buying habits. So for example, maybe this 15-year-old girl bought more vitamins than normal, or she bought a handbag that’s big enough to hold diapers. It’s a pattern of behavior that when taken in the context of thousands of other people, reveals insights. It’s a little terrifying when you think about it.
In her TED talk she also references the top five Facebook likes that are most indicative of intelligence. The Silicon Valleys Business Journal (http://www.bizjournals.com/sanjose/news/2013/03/14/smart-people-like-curly-fries-and-5.html) writes this:
Researchers at Cambridge University and Microsoft claim they were able to predict five attributes about a person with more than 80 percent accuracy, just based on the pages, status updates and photos they ‘Like’ on Facebook.
“One can imagine situations in which such predictions, even if incorrect, could pose a threat to an individual’s well-being, freedom or even life,” the study’s authors write. “Importantly, given the ever-increasing amount of digital traces people leave behind, it becomes difficult for individuals to control which of their attributes are being revealed.”
The researchers proved that point themselves, using a Facebook app called myPersonality to gather all the data they used for their study. A little more than 58,000 people shared their data with researchers, on average sharing 170 Likes per person.
FYI. I took the test and it did pretty well in analyzing me. It accurately listed my education in art and psychology (my major and minor in school), it said I was female, it considered me conservative yet liberal which I am, my religion as “Christian or other”, above average when it comes to hard work, contemplative, relaxed, and competitive. The only thing it got really wrong was my age—it said I was 27. But I’ll take it.
So what were the five likes that were most indicative of high intelligence?
The best predictors of high intelligence include “Thunderstorms,” “The Colbert Report,” “Science,” and “Curly Fries,” whereas low intelligence was indicated by “Sephora,” “I Love Being A Mom,” “Harley Davidson,” and “Lady Antebellum.” Good predictors of male homosexuality included “No H8 Campaign,” “Mac Cosmetics,” and “Wicked The Musical,” whereas strong predictors of male heterosexuality included “Wu-Tang Clan,” “Shaq,” and “Being Confused After Waking Up From Naps.”
How do they determine this? Partly from homophily. (Homophily is the tendency of individuals to associate and bond with similar others.) You can take what you will from that information but I do find it interesting. Next time you “like” something on Facebook, remember—someone is paying attention.
You can listen to Golbeck’s TED talk here: https://www.ted.com/talks/jennifer_golbeck_the_curly_fry_conundrum_why_social_media_likes_say_more_than_you_might_think?language=en
*Image from http://www.cannonballfever.com/