Social Network Shadow Profiles

Everyone, at least peripherally, knows that when they join and participate in a social network they are giving themselves and their posting behavior over for data analysis. (If you don’t realize this, take this opportunity to do so.) This simple fact of Internet life is the main thing that keeps a number of my friends and colleagues away from owning social networking memberships.

But does that really keep them from being a part of the data? Apparently not. Researchers from the Interdisciplinary Center for Scientific Computing of Heidelberg University have been studying social network statistics to see what they can learn about these non-members, or “shadow profiles.”

The Presence of Absence

You can read more about it here », but here’s the basics. Remember when you signed up for (insert your social netwrok here) and they had you upload your email address book to help you find all your friends? Well they keep all those emails, including the ones from non-members, and try and figure out who these non members are. What they do is take a given email address and see who else uploaded that email address, then they compare all those associated profiles, whether they are friends or not, and try to draw conclusions about the non-member.

Okay, that is creepy. At least since I am a member I am consciously contributing to their ideas about me, whereas if you are just a shadow profile it is really up in the air what they might think about you, statistically speaking of course. These days it seems this info is mostly used to deliver targeted ads to members. But findings like this makes me feel like there is really no opting out.