Lately, there's been a lot of talk about Facebook ads and how they may or may not have influenced the results of certain recent elections. As research has shown, it's becoming ever easier to target consumers with personalized messages, using their digital footprints to identify key personality traits. In fact, depressingly, computers may know us better than our friends and family. That same experiment found spouses still have an edge over machines – for the time being anyway.
In a new paper, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a team of social scientists from both the UK and the US reveals that one Facebook "like" is enough to determine a potential consumer's personality type and target them accordingly. When individuals were hit with a personalized ad, clicks increased by 40 percent and sales went up an impressive 50 percent.
The research includes three studies that involved a combined total of 3.7 million people, primarily British women aged 18 to 40. Individuals were targeted with personalized messages designed to appeal to their psychological characteristics. To do this, researchers used the myPersonality.org database to create a list of "likes" that indicated certain personality traits. "Making People Laugh" and "Slightly Stoopid", for example, ranked as extroverted, whereas "Stargate" and "Computers" were introverted.
The first study targeted more than 3 million women with one of two ads for an online beauty retailer. Extroverts saw a woman in bold makeup at a party. Introverts saw a woman in a dressing gown wearing natural makeup. Impressively (or scarily, depending which position you take), those targeted with an ad that "matched" their personality, were 54 percent more likely to buy the advertised product.
The second and third studies – one targeting people based on their openness score for a crossword app, the other on their introversion for a shooting game – produced similar results.
“I was surprised that we got the effect with so little information,” Sandra Matz, study author and computational social scientist at Columbia Business School, told The Guardian. "You can imagine if you were using the full Facebook profile to make individual level predictions about people’s personalities, the effects would be even bigger.”
The researchers advise implementing policies to protect individuals from money-grabbing retailers and political campaigns, but they also point out this technology can be used for good. Targeted ads can help people make better and healthier choices. In the meantime, there are actions you can take to protect your privacy.
“If people are worried about the way technology is going, there are lots of little actions they can take to reduce the amount of data that is collected about them and to avoid supporting the practices and companies that they might feel are detrimental to society,” Matz explained.