As Sharon Jayson of USA Today reports University of Cambridge researchers predicted race, age, IQ, sexuality, personality, substance use and political views using Likes alone using a dataset of more than 58,000 U.S. Facebook users.

David Jacobs, consumer privacy counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a public interest research center in Washington, that focuses on civil liberties and privacy, says this study aligns with others involving predictions based on social networking information."This is not unique to Facebook and is not even unique to social networking in general," Jacobs says. "It’s one of the implications of Big Data and in this case Big Data in a social networking context. Lots of information makes for certain inferences and sensitive predictions."

Even though most humans are of the opinion to be unique their behaviour is less individual that they are aware off. With the advances made by the likes of Google and Facebook in setting up contextual awareness of the software and the ability to profile a person based on their web-behaviour – being recorded for eternity in the data cellars of these molochs – effective strategies can be executed already today. The Obama 2012 campaign was often lauded to effectively use social media and profiling to target individual voters to a scale and precision not seen before as part of the campaign’s success in getting him re-elected.

As noted earlier (NB post in Dutch) Micheal Fertik CEO noted in Scientific American US/Uk edition February 2013: “A tale of two internets”:

As a result, 99 percent of us live on the wrong side of a one way mirror, in which the other 1 percent manipulates our experiences. Some laud this trend as “personalisation” – which sounds innocuous and fun, evoking the notion that the ads we see might appear in our favorite color schemes. What we are talking about, however is much deeper and significantly more consequential.

The internet shows us “what it thinks we want to see” by serving up content that matches the hidden profiles created about us based on our daily on-line interactions. This behind-the-scene curation reinforces our political points of view through on-line “echo chambers” that reaffirm, instead of challenge, what we already believe to be true.

If the amount of data elements needed to accurately profile a customer is indeed so limited as shown by the researchers of the University of Cambridge large scale introduction of software being the prime actor between a company and its customers is around the corner.

UPDATE 28/03/’13

Additional reading now same mantra but on location data:
Location Data Can Uniquely Identify Cellphone Users

UPDATE 31/01/’15

Additional reading now same mantra but on credit card transactions:
Just a handful of anonymous card transactions can reveal your identity | PaymentEye.