New research from the University of Adelaide shows you cannot escape the grip of social media, even if you don’t participate in it.
New research from the University of Adelaide shows you cannot escape the grip of social media, even if you don’t participate in it.

What your social ‘shadow profile’ reveals

YOU can delete your Facebook page, get rid of Twitter and ditch Instagram, but you cannot escape the reach of social media giants.

This is the new finding from a joint research project by universities in South Australia and Vermont, which found "there is no place to hide on social network platforms" as the companies can track and target you using just the information provided by your friends.

This tracking, also known as creating "shadow profiles" of users, could be used to "manipulate" their votes and create "filter bubbles" to serve them fake news, the researchers warned.

The study also comes amid news that Facebook could face a "record-setting" fine from the US Federal Trade Commission for mishandling users' privacy information, and just days after Google was fined $79.5 million by the French data protection watchdog.

The research analysed more than 30.8 million Twitter posts from 13,905 users to determine whether social networks could predict user behaviour.

It found users' preferences, political leanings, and their 'voice' could be predicted from their Twitter posts, even if they had deleted their account.

A profile could be created about a user with 95 per cent accuracy, the study found, just by analysing posts from eight or nine of their social media followers.

"By knowing who the social ties of an individual are and what the activities of those ties are, our results show that one can, in principle, accurately profile even those individuals who are not present in the data," the authors wrote.

This information could be used to "identify and track individuals and even manipulate information exposure," it warned.

University of Adelaide applied mathematics senior lecturer Dr Lewis Mitchell, who co-authored the study, said the results proved social media had a much longer reach than its users might expect, and they could find the tech giants difficult to escape.

It takes posts from just eight or nine online friends to create a profile of a person, the new study found.
It takes posts from just eight or nine online friends to create a profile of a person, the new study found.

"Telling people to delete your account in order to protect your privacy is not enough as someone's political affiliations or leisure interests can be determined from your friends' posts," he said.

"It's like listening in on one end of a phone call. Even though you can't hear the person on the other end of the line, you can still find out a lot of information about them from the one-sided conversation you can hear."

Dr Mitchell said this information could be used to create shadow profiles on users who had left social media services, and had the potential to spread "filter bubbles" that could manipulate users' opinions.

"For instance, in a political debate, people may be only exposed to one type of information and may not receive any opposing views," he said.

The research was published in Nature Human Behaviour journal just one day after Google was fined a record $79.5 million by French data protection watchdog CNIL for failing to adequately inform users of how it used their information online.

Social media behemoth Facebook is also reportedly facing a "record-setting" fine from the US Federal Trade Commission, with reports the regulator is planning to punish the company for mishandling users' personal information after a series of privacy scandals last year.



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