Ed Team

The Company We Keep

Filed By Ed Team | September 21, 2009 7:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Quote of the Day
Tags: boston globe, carolyn y. johnson, Facebook, Massachusetts

"People may be effectively 'outing' themselves just by the virtual company they keep."

--Carolyn Y. Johnson of the Boston Globe, reporting on an MIT software project that analyzes people's Facebook friends and predicts whether a person is gay.


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Since I posted this as a quote, I'll editorialize in the comments: Being able to tell that someone is gay because they have gay friends on Facebook is not rocket science. Two points: 1) Members of the military and those in states without LGBT-inclusive employment protections should therefore be careful whom they friend; 2) The full article, which explains other things that the software could deduce from FB profiles, implies that this sort of thing is but the tip of the iceberg in terms of what could be deduced from FB activity. Good or bad? Depends on how it's used and your perspective on privacy. It reminds me a bit of an old SF story (Asimov, I think) about a future in which the outcome of the presidential election could be determined by analyzing how just one person voted.

Big Brother gets one step closer. I must admit that FB scares me because so much is out of my control. At least in blogging one has control over what information is available to the public and the site owners.

This particular program is especially frightening because the information they find can be used against someone. My first question of these researchers: why this target group? And who will use the program? What if they're wrong? (They point out that the program is less accurate predicting sexuality of women.) The most important question: why do they want to know?

You can set your Facebook profile so that only your friends can see it. So, if you have concerns about privacy, change the settings!