Are You More Than Your Facebook Algorithms?
Most of us know about Big Data and resent its potential to exploit us somehow. But the digital footprints we've created by using Facebook are far more creepy and revealing than you could ever imagine. It's not just that they know when you're old enough for ads about wrinkle creams. Simply by compiling your Facebook "likes," researchers in the field of Psychometrics are able to analyze your personality type with a startling degree of accuracy.
It's not just your "likes" but how you engage on Facebook that paint of picture of who you are. By offering Facebook users a free personality test back in 2008, researchers used the questionnaire answers to refine a method of reliably predicting personality traits, to the point that users of this information could target anyone with anything: ads, news, "fake news," and god knows what else.
Could this information be used to manipulate us in ways that might be harmful? Could it threaten our freedom and well-being? Too late to worry about that. That train had left the station, in the form of the 2016 US Presidential Election. But besides being more aware about the misuse of our digital footprints, we can proactively start fucking with them.
For example, start "liking" a genre of music that you actually can't stand. If you're a Christian, start liking atheist groups. You get where I'm going: Make it harder to label you as this or that. The more nebulous your personality seems, the less you can be exploited by dark forces. Personally, I'd like to get less ads for incontinence products, like Tinkle Panties. I’m not a teenager but Christ, allow me some dignity before I need diapers.
If you doubt the veracity of your digital footprint, you can safely check yours at https://applymagicsauce.com. It takes only a few seconds to generate. I checked mine, and I was aghast at how well they've figured me out:
Your digital footprint suggests that you are far more intellectually curious and sensitive to beauty than most. You might say that your beliefs are individualistic and frequently drift towards the unconventional, and that you enjoy your imagination and the exciting places it takes you! You like to do unexpected things that make life that bit more interesting. You might say that you aren’t completely unreliable, but you’ve been known to slip up on occasion. You can find it difficult to get along with others when you first meet them. You might be suspicious of others’ motives in this situation. It also looks like people warm to you over time, and you to them, although that doesn’t stop you telling them "how it is".
Wow. Pretty good, eerily good. Also, this:
Your digital footprint suggests that you have Liberal political views. You do not hold any of the religious views for which specific predictions are made. You fall into the “Other” category, which includes Atheists [....] You have a strong interest in Psychology. You probably enjoy people-watching and are a good listener.
Yep. Yes. Correct. I could have told you all this if you'd asked, but I resent these traits being discerned to use as a marketing tool or perhaps something more sinister. My one victory against Big Data is that the psychometric model couldn't tell if I was male or female. Yay, me!
It's silly to complain about privacy when we've willingly given out so much information about our daily activities. Our grocery preferences, the magazines we read, our shopping habits, all help to flesh out our digital profiles.
But one wants to be more than a marketing target. Instead of worrying about honing your social media "brand," it might be better to focus on being a complicated individual with a measure of discretion about your every thought or dinner entrée. We are so much more than our data, but our data is already giving away too much. Following Twitter accounts of people who think just like we do is another way of limiting ourselves. Don't make it easy for marketers or politicians to micro-target you.
Be wary of propaganda on Facebook. Learn to enjoy your meals without documenting them on Instagram. Think twice about "membership cards" that require too much personal information. If you're a cat person, join a Facebook dog-lovers group. Pretend to like Metallica (as if you don't already do that!)
Believe me when I say, Subversiveness is its own reward. And let me confirm that according to my Facebook psychometric data, I am "probably a woman who is not afraid to show her masculine side!"