Tuesday, 22 January 2019 05:06

Behaviour can be known with a little help from your friends: claim Featured

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Behaviour can be known with a little help from your friends: claim Courtesy University of Adelaide

A study conducted jointly by the University of Adelaide and the University of Vermont claims that the behaviour of an individual can be predicted using social media data from eight or nine of their friends.

The study, published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour on Tuesday, found that deleting an account was of no use as an individual could be profiled from data taken from friends' posts.

The researchers analysed the content of more than 30 million tweets, using information theory from mathematics and probability to test the predictability of individuals’ behaviour, based on what they published online.

Results showed that up to 95% of the potential accuracy was achievable for an individual using data from their friends alone. And data from eight to nine friends was enough to obtain predictability comparable to that using only the individual's data.

“Effectively it shows that there is no place to hide on social network platforms,” says co-author Dr Lewis Mitchell, senior lecturer in applied mathematics in the University of Adelaide’s School of Mathematical Sciences and associate investigator with the ARC Centre of Excellence in Mathematical and Statistical Frontiers.

“Telling people to delete your account in order to protect your privacy is not enough, as profiling information such as someone’s political affiliations or leisure interests can be determined from your friends’ posts.

"It's like listening in on one end of a phone call. Even though you can't hear the person on the other end of the line, you can still find out a lot of information about them from the one-sided conversation you can hear."

“Many people know they are giving out access to their information when choosing to use an online platform, but they think it’s only information about themselves,” says co-author Dr James Bagrow, assistant professor, Mathematics and Statistics and Vermont Complex Systems Centre at the University of Vermont.

“But it’s not an individual choice: they’re also giving away information about their friends.”

Dr Mitchell added: “There are benefits from being able to predict behaviour. Social media platforms use this principle to target information so that you receive posts that you are interested in.

“But of course there is a dark side as well, such as the potential for the creation of ‘filter bubbles’. For instance in a political debate, people may be only exposed to one type of information and may not receive any opposing views.”


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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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