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A class project for a computer science class two years ago at Massachusetts Institute of Technology used “friend” links to determine if Facebook users were gay. In a similar project, a researcher at the University of Texas at Dallas was able to determine Facebook users’ political affiliation. At the University of Maryland in College Park, Md., researchers used a number of information-gathering techniques on Facebook, Flickr, Dogster and BibSonomy and were able to extract significant personal information of users.

At MIT, the “Project Gaydar” student researchers Carter Jernigan and Behram Mistree, are working on an article for a professional journal about their Facebook research. It looked at the genders and sexual preferences of a subject’s online friends and predicted if the subject was gay. Using information about people they knew, the program worked for men, though less well for gay women.

Jason Kaufman, a research fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University said, “Potentially everything you ever do on the Internet will live forever. I like to think we’ll all learn to give each other a little more slack for our indiscretions and idiosyncrasies.”

Project “Gaydar” story here.

If that information is going to live forever, social networkers might consider using an alias. Or just have a really diverse group of friends.

Tom Kelchner