Facebook has revealed that using data from the posts people make it is able to tell when they fall in love. This is creepy, frankly, and even the claims that the data is “anonymised” doesn’t really help, I’ll explain why, but first let’s look at how Facebook can tell your relationship status.
First of course, it’s able to directly tell if you opt to share that information. As you probably know, you can press the button to tell the world “you’re in a relationship”. Now, lots of us willingly share that information, and in so doing we enable Facebook’s data scientists to see the trends that lead up to us changing our status.
So then, by watching the other users on its service the company is able to tell when people are exhibiting the same trends. The data says that in the 100 days before people change their status they make increasing numbers of posts on each others walls. Couples about to be “official” will post, according to facebook, 1.67 times per day in the 12 days before they publicly change their profile to “in a relationship”. The number of posts then falls 1.53 posts per day in the next 85 days.
Facebook also notes that while the number of interactions drops as the relationship starts, there’s also an uptick in the level of positivity. This includes the use of words like love, nice, happy and to get the overall trend Facebook subtracted and negative words like hate, hurt and bad.
So what’s the problem with this? Well, nothing in terms of the general aggregate data. What’s bad is the fact that it’s clear from this that Facebook is quite able to tell when people might be about to start a relationship. This means that even if those people opt to keep it a “secret” from the overlords at Facebook, the company can still use trends to spot these things.
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