Do you like curly fries? Have you Liked them on Facebook? Watch this talk to find out the surprising things Facebook (and others) can guess about you from your random Likes and Shares. Computer scientist Jennifer Golbeck explains how this came about, how some applications of the technology are not so cute — and why she thinks we should return the control of information to its rightful owners.



  • Think about the things you’ve liked recently on social media.





  • demographic – a particular sector of a population
  • persona – the aspect of someone’s character that is presented to or perceived by others
  • crib – a child’s bed with barred or latticed sides; a cot
  • enact – put into practice (an idea or suggestion)
  • infer – deduce or conclude (something) from evidence and reasoning rather than from explicit statements
  • consent – give permission for something to happen


Think about it

Answer the questions below.

  • How has the Internet changed since the beginning of the early 2000s? (1:00)
  • What kind of data are computer scientists able to collect about Internet users? (2:10)
  • How was Target able to predict that the teenager was pregnant? What kind of things are scientists able to identify based on our online behaviours? (3:18)
  • What could be the correlation between liking a curly fries fan page and being smart? (5:51)
  • What solutions does Jenifer suggest to help users have more control over the data they share? (8:23)
  • What is Jennifer’s goal as a scientist?


Practice makes perfect

Fill in the blank spaces with the missing words. Use ONE word per blank space.

So my favorite example is from this study that ________ published this year in the Proceedings of the National Academies. If you Google this, you’ll find it. It’s four pages, easy to read. And they looked at just people’s Facebook likes, so just the things you like on Facebook, and used that to predict all these attributes, along with some other ones. And in their paper they listed the five likes that were most indicative ________ high intelligence. And among ________ was liking a page for curly fries. (Laughter) Curly fries are delicious, but liking them does not necessarily mean that you’re smarter than ________ average person. So how is it that one of the strongest indicators of your intelligence is liking this page when the content is totally irrelevant ________ the attribute that’s being predicted? And it turns ________ that we have to look at a whole bunch of underlying theories to see why we’re able to do this.

One of them is a sociological theory called homophily, which basically says people are friends ________ people like them. So if you’re smart, you tend to be friends with smart people, and if you’re young, you tend to be friends with young people, and this is well established for hundreds of years. We also know a lot about ________ information spreads through networks. It turns out things like viral videos or Facebook likes or other information spreads in exactly ________ same way that diseases spread through social networks. So this is something we’ve studied for a long time. We have good models of it. And so you can put those things together and start seeing why things ________ this happen. So if I ________ to give you a hypothesis, it would be that a smart guy started this page, or maybe one of the first people who liked it would ________ scored high on that test. And they liked it, and their friends saw it, and by homophily, we know that he probably had smart friends, and so it spread _______ them, and some of them liked it, and they had smart friends, and so it spread to them, and so it propagated through the network to a host of smart people, so that ________ the end, the action of liking the curly fries page is indicative of high intelligence, not because of the content, but because the actual action of liking reflects back the common attributes of other people who have ________ it.


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