Even if you never had a Facebook or Twitter account, your privacy is at risk due to your friends who do have accounts, according to a new study.

The study, conducted by the University of Vermont, suggested that, in theory, “a company, government or other actor can accurately profile a person — think political party, favorite products, religious commitments — from their friends, even if they’ve never been on social media or delete their account.”

In short, those associated with you are used to create a profile of you in your absence.

According to techxplore.com:

The team of scientists, from the University of Vermont and the University of Adelaide, gathered more than thirty million public posts on Twitter from 13,905 users.

With this data, they showed that information within the Twitter messages from 8 or 9 of a person’s contacts make it possible to predict that person’s later tweets as accurately as if they were looking directly at that person’s own Twitter feed.

The new study also shows that if a person leaves a social media platform—or never joined—the online posts and words of their friends still provide about 95% of the “potential predictive accuracy,” the scientists write, of a person’s future activities—even without any of that person’s data.

“There’s no place to hide in a social network,” says Lewis Mitchell, a co-author on the new study.

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However, the study couldn’t confirm whether there’s a limit on the predictiveness of data-by-association; in other words, the accuracy may only extend so far in your absence on social media.

That said, the study’s findings likely won’t stop growing public concerns over online privacy.

Recently, for example, a CBS news article asked if “the ’10 Year Challenge’ on Facebook is a privacy scheme disguised as a meme?”

According to the article:

It’s the simple meme that’s taking over your social media feeds: the “10 Year Challenge,” where users upload side-by-side photos of themselves from a decade ago and now.

But it might not be so simple.

Facebook on Wednesday distanced itself from the “10 Year Challenge” after an article set off speculation that the social media giant could be secretly mining data from the photos to improve its facial recognition algorithms. It’s a scenario that those who have studied social media companies don’t rule out, despite Facebook’s denials.


More than a dozen former Facebook employees detailed how the company’s leadership and its performance review system has created a culture where any dissent is discouraged, as reported in this video.


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