Facebook and other online data collectors are able to continually gather and analyze the digital bits of behavior that make up our identities. A new study entitled "Private traits and attributes are predictable from digital records of human behavior," via Cambridge and Microsoft Research researchers illustrate the social surveillance infrastructure Facebook and so many others have unleashed. No one would willingly permit the FBI or CIA to do the kind of personal and collective eavesdropping now routine on giant commercial platforms, such as Facebook. Cambridge's research reveals that harvesting our "Likes" creates a powerful dossier about one's health concerns, political stands, race/ethnicity, whether we use tobacco or alcohol and more. But spying on "Likes" is the tip of the data collection nightmare that has been unleashed by the commercial online data industry. Our social media behaviors are one part of invisible and complex online profiles created for each of us, that include what we do and where we go--online and off. These digital dossiers have become the primary currency for the global digital advertising industry. The study is a wake-up call to Congress and the European Union that its time to enact new laws to protect online privacy.
PS: Interestingly the study was funded by organizations working on marketing and data collection. The Psychometrics Center at Cambridge is involved with commercial online marketing practices--including Facebook advertising. Microsoft Research is a funder of the center, and is engages in computational advertising research.