Wednesday, September 29, 2010

"Project 'Gaydar': At MIT, an experiment identifies which students are gay, raising new questions about online privacy"

"It started as a simple term project for an MIT class on ethics and law on the electronic frontier.

Two students partnered up to take on the latest Internet fad: the online social networks that were exploding into the mainstream. With people signing up in droves to reconnect with classmates and old crushes from high school, and even becoming online “friends” with their family members, the two wondered what the online masses were unknowingly telling the world about themselves. The pair weren’t interested in the embarrassing photos or overripe profiles that attract so much consternation from parents and potential employers. Instead, they wondered whether the basic currency of interactions on a social network - the simple act of “friending” someone online - might reveal something a person might rather keep hidden.

Using data from the social network Facebook, they made a striking discovery: just by looking at a person’s online friends, they could predict whether the person was gay. They did this with a software program that looked at the gender and sexuality of a person’s friends and, using statistical analysis, made a prediction."

The title and story ripped off from the Boston Globe. Please read the full article there so they can get page hits and advertising dollars.

Boston Globe - Project 'Gaydar'


This is an example of the power of data mining - and new applications for the kinds of algorithms used for searching, data mining, and market research. These two researchers have used the same kind of techniques that facebook uses when its automated systems decide what ads you should see when you are logged in.

The information about whether a person is gay or not could have potentially devastating consequences for the individual. Think about what would happen if the government of Iran or another fundamentalist (like Saudi Arabia) or stridently anti-gay regime (think Uganda [Fear grows among Uganda’s gay community over death penalty draft law]) decided to keep track of its students living abroad...

Privacy and information security concerns can come out of no-where.


  1. I'll admit, I think I'm ten percent gay based on my Facebook friends. I do remember Patrick Swayze riding bareback with Franz of "Hans and Franz" on Saturday Night Live. Patrick really pumped me up!

  2. And, skinny dipper, let's not forget "To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar"

    for your edification, here's a link to an awesome picture of Patrick in drag:

    John Leguizamo, Wesley Snipes and Patrick Swayze in drag


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