Those with sufficient privacy concerns may delete a social media account but the traces left behind, specifically their connections to other users, can still tell a lot about them. Researchers at the University of Adelaide in Australia found that it was possible to accurately profile an individual with no access to the text of their social media posts by looking at as few as eight or nine of their contacts.
This seemed to work best when looking at users who tweeted regularly and had a large following who didn’t tweet so often. In such a so-called egocentric network, the followers tended to “leak” a lot of information about the central person or ego. Aside from privacy concerns, this predictive power, the researchers say, could be used by platform providers to combine with a recommender for new connections that could create or reinforce filter bubbles.
“Effectively it shows that there is no place to hide on social network platforms,” says study co-author Dr Lewis Mitchell, senior lecturer in applied mathematics at the University of Adelaide.
“Telling people to delete your account in order to protect your privacy is not enough, as profiling information such as someone’s political affiliations or leisure interests can be determined from your friends’ posts,” he added.