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Facebook can out you

You’ll often see scientific research completely misrepresented in the papers. Either it’s dodgy work funded by special interest groups (evil big corporations), or it’s decent work twisted into headlines that make out something is definitely true, rather than a working theory, usually to support some prejudice or other.

Today’s example comes thanks to the Telegraph, who have published findings of research by two MIT students that even they haven’t published yet (presumably because it has something to do with Facebook.) Carter Jernigan and Behram Mistree’s study suggests that you can work out if someone is gay by studying the gender and sexuality of the contacts on their Facebook page, which is sure to shock anyone who knows gay people. The very idea that they’d associate with each other, eh? Incredible.

Their analysis led them to devise a computer programme that predicts the sexuality of a Facebooker by the number of gay friends he or she has. No-one has asked them why you would do this, or why it matters, seemingly.

‘When they first did it, it was absolutely striking – we said, “Oh my God – you can actually put some computation behind that,”’ said Hal Abelson, a MIT computer science professor, to the Boston Globe.

‘That pulls the rug out from a whole policy and technology perspective that the point is to give you control over your information – because you don’t have control over your information.’ Oh dear.

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