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MIT Project "Gaydar" Shakes Privacy Assumptions 508

theodp writes "At MIT, an experiment that identifies which students are gay is raising new questions about online privacy. Using data from Facebook, two students in an MIT class on ethics and law on the electronic frontier made a striking discovery: just by looking at a person's online friends, they could predict whether the person was gay. The project, given the name 'Gaydar' by the students, is part of the fast-moving field of social network analysis, which examines what the connections between people can tell us, from predicting who might be a terrorist to the likelihood a person is happy, fat, liberal, or conservative." MIT professor Hal Abelson, who co-taught the course, is quoted: "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."
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MIT Project "Gaydar" Shakes Privacy Assumpitons

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 20, 2009 @03:31PM (#29484409)

    When I first used FB, I kept most of the personal information blank. I only told it my age, that I was male, and that I was in a relationship and not looking for one.

    FB at once started serving up gay-oriented ads. I never clicked on any of them or in any other way expressed interest, yet over time the percentage of these seemed to increase.

    I finally gave up, and filled in the "interested in" section. The moment that field went from blank to "women", the gay ads vanished.

    It isn't clear whether FB actually thought that I was gay, or just sought to pressure me into answering more questions about myself. If the former, its algorithms are entirely too simplistic. If the latter, it's evil.

  • by Ritchie70 ( 860516 ) on Sunday September 20, 2009 @04:10PM (#29484631) Journal

    Also according to the article, they ran it against 10 friends who they know to be gay but who aren't "out" on Facebook. It hit 100%.

    Too small a sample to be sure, but still significant.

    The whole thing just boils down to "people who are ____ tend to have friends who are also ____.

    Insert gay, straight, Christian, Moslem, male, female, old, young, black, white, whatever.

  • In summary: (Score:2, Informative)

    by hoofinasia ( 1234460 ) on Sunday September 20, 2009 @04:17PM (#29484685)
    MIT students find that gay people tend to be friends with gay people. The world gasps. Backs are patted.

    colloquialism "Birds of a feather.." confirmed empirically. stop the presses.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 20, 2009 @04:33PM (#29484819)

    Hmmm... I would define who you are based on your actions more than what you say you are...

  • Re:I beg to differ (Score:4, Informative)

    by c6gunner ( 950153 ) on Sunday September 20, 2009 @04:37PM (#29484839)

    You can tag them, but I don't think it's searchable. Even if it were, unless your name is Zaphod Beeblibrox, chances are there are hundreds of people tagged under the same name, so it'd be rather difficult to go through them and figure out which one is you.

  • by Mikkeles ( 698461 ) on Sunday September 20, 2009 @05:32PM (#29485207)

    It's the basic unit of making an ass out of you and me.

  • by Chris Mattern ( 191822 ) on Sunday September 20, 2009 @07:10PM (#29485845)

    It's said that a lot of the undergraduate girls at college in the US are "gay until graduation" because it's supposed to be so hard to find a decent boyfriend (one figure I heard quoted is that there are on average 1.3 girls to every guy in undergraduate college in the US).

  • Re:I beg to differ (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anci3nt of Days ( 1615945 ) on Monday September 21, 2009 @12:10AM (#29487667)
    better watch out - the Gaydar may read having no friends as 'paedophile'.
  • gender preferences (Score:3, Informative)

    by falconwolf ( 725481 ) <falconsoaring_20 ... m ['hoo' in gap]> on Monday September 21, 2009 @12:22AM (#29487731)

    There is the issue of what makes a person gay, straight, or bi.

    It goes beyond that. Unlike what most people think not everyone is either male or female. Some people are born with body parts that are "male" and "female". Genetically females are said to have two X Chromosomes, XX, while males have an X and a Y, XY. However some people are born with XXY, XXXY, and XXXXY karotypes. These people are said to have ambiguous genitalia [medscape.com] and are called Intersexuals [isna.org]. The more commonly known name for them is hermaphrodites. I don't know but the South African female athlete who's been in the news because of the question of her sex, with some saying she's not female, may be one.


  • by deglr6328 ( 150198 ) on Monday September 21, 2009 @07:01AM (#29489203)

    The thing that is 'already obvious to others' is that you are a pretentious dolt with vainglorious delusions and a gross ignorance of the existence of confirmation bias.

  • by omarin ( 322924 ) on Monday September 21, 2009 @08:50AM (#29489895)

    For gay Slashdot readers like me, this article is a good reminder why (situation allowing!) it's best to be out of the closet and upfront with everyone. I came out to my folks when I was 16, and have always been upfront about my gayness, and I've reaped the benefits of this:

    1. no having to lie/watch everything I say
    2. no worries about been "found out" if I use some gay-oriented website (such as gaydar.co.uk)
    3. no blackmail is possible (I remember that it was an excuse used by government agencies in order to deny hiring gays, as they could allegedly be blackmailed about their sexuality).
    4. being an out gay man, straight people who get to know me learn that gay is good/they tend to get rid of their preconceptions about gays.
    5. I can use Facebook/Flickr and not give a damn about who can see who my friends/groups are.

    Basically, as an out gay man I can read the article, ponder on my Facebook account, and can calmly think "So f*ck*ng what??"

    This is because being out of the closet defangs homophobes in many ways..

    Of course I understand why some gay/lesbian/bi folk would be in the closet (live in a small town, close-minded friends/family/employers, work for the US military etc.), but if you're in the closet and reading this, realize that in the long run it's so much nicer to "thine own self be true", and I've been so much happier since I came out all those years ago.

    I'm here, I'm queer, I'm a geek my dear! ;-)

  • Re:I beg to differ (Score:3, Informative)

    by Cro Magnon ( 467622 ) on Monday September 21, 2009 @11:22AM (#29491837) Homepage Journal

    - You shouldn't have posted the pictures on the internet
    - You shouldn't have taken pictures,
    - You shouldn't have been involved in whatever the situation was in the first place.

    2. I didn't take those pictures, my ex-GF did.
    1. She also posted them, without my consent.
    3. Yes, it was probably a bad idea to let her get me drunk and take all those incriminating pictures of me, but one doesn't think about such things 24/7.

    BTW, these days, many people don't have the luxury of working for "decent" employers. And it really sucks when the Born-Again Christian who controls the hiring for XYZ LLC decides not to hire you after seeing those FB pictures.

"Oh my! An `inflammatory attitude' in alt.flame? Never heard of such a thing..." -- Allen Gwinn, allen@sulaco.Sigma.COM