How Twitter And Facebook Learn Private Information About You Even If You Don’t Have An Account

Written by Ann Brown

Many people have opted out of social media to protect their privacy but it seems Facebook and Twitter may have found a way around this.

According to a new study, Twitter and Facebook can collect private data about you — even if you no longer have an account. The study examined more than 30 million public posts on Twitter from 13,905. Algorithms were able to accurately predict 64-percent of the time what the account holder was going to post. If a user didn’t have an account, the algorithms could predict by 61%.

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How? By looking at who you have contact with.

“Researchers from the University of Vermont discovered that these platforms only need access to eight of your one-time contacts in order to infer information about you,” the Daily Mail reported.

This information can include everything from your political affiliation to purchasing practices to your favorite TV shows. “Information is so strongly embedded in a social network that, in principle, one can profile an individual from their available social ties even when the individual forgoes the platform completely,” the researchers wrote in the study.

“You alone don’t control your privacy on social media platforms,’ said Jim Bagrow, a mathematician at the University of Vermont who led the research published in the journal Nature Human Behavior. “Your friends have a say too.”

Researchers at the University of Vermont teamed up with the University of Adelaide in Australia for the study.

So it really doesn’t make a difference if you are on Facebook or not — even if you have deleted your social media presence. Unknowingly, your friends are leaking your privacy to others, found the study.


While the study analyzed Twitter, researchers say the same can be true for other social media including Facebook.

“The researchers believe content posted from a user’s friends provides about 95 percent of the ‘potential predictive accuracy’ needed to obtain information about a person, ‘without requiring the individual’s data,” the Daily Mail reported.

This revelation makes one wonder if it is ever possible to protect your information online. The ability to gather private information on opted-out you from your opted-in friends has deeper ramifications.

The research raises profound questions about the fundamental nature of privacy—and how, in a highly networked society, a person’s choices and identity are embedded in that network,” UMV Today of the Uniter of Vermont reported. “The new study shows that, at least in theory, a company, government or other actor can accurately profile a person–think political party, favorite products, religious commitments—from their friends, even if they’ve never been on social media or delete their account.”

“There’s no place to hide in a social network,” said study co-author Lewis Mitchell in a statement.

The information may boost calls from Apple’s Tim Cook for the government to put more consumer controls over online privacy.