Kudos to Professor Jennifer Golbeck for an informative TED session. Her talk ‘The curly fry conundrum: Why social media “likes” say more than you might think‘ does a really nice job showing us that online privacy is about a lot more than the data you consciously and voluntarily put ‘out’ there.

So in my lab and with colleagues, we’ve developed mechanisms where we can quite accurately predict things like your political preference, your personality score, gender, sexual orientation, religion, age, intelligence, along with things like how much you trust the people you know and how strong those relationships are. We can do all of this really well. And again, it doesn’t come from what you might think of as obvious information.

When was the last time you filled out an online form or questionnaire? How about sending photos to a friend or uploading pictures using one of the many available services?

When we’re actually telling stuff about ourselves or sending and posting information online it’s pretty straightforward to make a connection with a potential privacy violation if the information got in the wrong hands.

We wrote about this in the Sticky Password blog not too long ago: Deleting Your Way to Online Privacy? We can all imagine a photo, or a letter you wrote to a loved one, or maybe something you tweeted last week to a girlfriend or boyfriend as being tangible data that could possibly be misused.

Because we can picture it, we can imagine that it can be deleted and that our privacy can somehow be returned. That’s not really true, but at least we can picture it: there’s something of ours out there and we want it back or for it to be deleted.

But what about patterns of behavior – what you click on, and like and share on your favorite social media platform?

What can we do when social media companies and just about everyone with a website is keeping track of trends of millions of peoples’ behavior and using that information to predict stuff about you? (Interestingly, Prof. Golbeck doesn’t mention the word metadata at all during her talk.)

We thank her for looking out for the likes of you and us, and we wish her all the luck in the world to help us all, by closing the open Pandora’s box that is the Internet.