Facebook Gaydar: Your friends’ demographics predict your own

gay on fbThis study is cool from a statistics geek perspective. But it’s disturbing from a couple other perspectives. They frame it as disturbing from a privacy perspective, which is obviously true. But I want to highlight another aspect of it that makes me a little uncomfortable: that it focuses on sexual orientation.

The tendency to be curious about others’ sexual orientation is to some degree very human and natural (see gossip) but it is also connected to a culture in which any sexual orientation (not to mention gender identity and gender expression) outside of the mainstream is considered scandalous. This study makes me feel like further power of privacy is being stripped from oppressed people, and that makes me a little uncomfortable. Of course the study is just drawing attention to the fact that this is an existing privacy risk, not creating the risk itself. But as FlowingData blogger Nathan Yau speculated in his post on the study, it’s likely that similar results would be possible for other demographics such as age and race. The focus on sexual orientation is too evocative of past (and current) cultures which sensationalize coming out and even “outing” people.

That said, it is super cool from a statistics perspective. As previously mentioned, I love using data from real life. In that respect, keep it coming. But be careful of the cultural implications of your work.