Why We Should All Be Scared Now That Facebook Has Gaydar
Students at MIT have devised a way to identify people who are gay by analyzing their Facebook profiles. The method works by examining who a person is friends with, and drawing conclusions based on the characteristics of those friends. Based on the principle that birds of a feather flock together, the technique assumes that if a person is friends with a high percentage of people who are themselves identified as gay, that person is guaranteed to be super-gay. The linked article goes off into a discussion of online privacy in the face of ever improving technology and changing social norms, but once it started using complicated words like “homophily” and “principle” I kind of lost interest. Anyone trying to make a point without first breaking it down into a list of the 10 Most Hilarious Episodes of The Gummi Bears isn't going to get a lot of traction with me. No, instead of caring about the actually-interesting privacy issues, my first though upon reading this was one of concern. You see, I haven’t been particularly discriminatory when adding friends on Facebook. As a ruggedly handsome Internet humor-smith, a significant number of people have realized their lives would be meaningless without adding me as a friend. And, perhaps due to childhood memories of loneliness and having to ride the teeter-toter with the school janitor, I haven’t rejected a single friend yet. As a consequence, my Friends list is now inflated with a significant percentage of people I’ve never met at all. So my worry, given the probable-depraved nature of anyone who would find me amusing, is what would someone running a similar algorithm on me find? Based on the company I supposedly keep, would a researcher conclude that I’m a fan of mustache-rodeos? I had to find out. So, using the computer knowledge that all white guys with glasses possess, I fired up my laptop, and during a techno laden montage of progress bars and really fast typing, hacked in to an MIT mainframe and stole a copy of the code used by the researchers. After reviewing it, I saw numerous opportunities to expand upon the student’s work, and over the next four minutes made several improvements to the original algorithm. Most notably, I implemented several heuristic generalizations into the code and gave it the ability to pivot on all possible classification criteria, not just homosexuality. Once activated the software would comb my list of friends, their lists of friends and so on, computing a list of attributes that all my accidental acquaintances possessed. If I had a significant number of friends with a given attribute, the algorithm's output would then indicate that I myself share the same attribute. It was clear that activating such a wide-ranging piece of software would potentially be a violation of Facebook’s terms and conditions, set me up for felony charges and usher in a dystopic world where privacy was nonexistent, and government boots were constantly pressed to our necks. So I had a nice stiff drink first. The program’s output and my accompanying notes are recorded below. __
YOU ARE: Straight
Whew. I can’t say I’m that surprised, but I guess Dad will be happy.
YOU ARE: White
Nothing to disagree with here either, although I think for a later version of the software it would be amusing to quantify just how white I am. (Correct Answer: 786.2 Greg Bradys on the Stanford-Brady Complexion Gradient Scale [revised] )
YOU ARE: An alcoholic
Well that’s wrong. And no, I’m not just saying it’s wrong because I CAN QUIT ANY TIME (smashes a glass on the wall). Although I like beer, and drink beer, and have good times with beer, we also know we don't have to spend every waking second with each other. The time apart makes our relationship all that much stronger. However it looks like a lot of my friends don't feel the same way. I’m guessing the software observed that many of them have pictures of themselves doing keg hoists or shooter blasters or whiskey felchers or whatever it is the kids do now a days.
YOU ARE: A fan fiction author
So it seems a lot of my friends like losing themselves in their own worlds full of popular, copyrighted characters. Nothing wrong with that I guess, but I don't think it applies to me. Some of you may recall the early months of this column, when I used to write highly sexual tales featuring Lieutenant Worf and Count Chocula, but those were actually sonnets and not fan-fiction, if you look carefully.
YOU ARE: Chinese
This one confused me, because earlier it said I was white. Then I wondered if it thought I was Chinese as in nationality-wise. A review of the data revealed that a big chunk of my friends are Chinese spambots. Surprisingly this subset included two of my ex-girlfriends, which upon further reflection probably explains why they kept selling me all those region-free DVDs.