10 Innocuous Things That Reveal Shocking Amounts of Information

10 Innocuous Things That Reveal Shocking Amounts of Information

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We live in the digital age, and it has never been easier for… well, anyone to find out all your dirty little secrets. While we expect agencies like the NSA, the FBI, and Google to know a terrifying amount about us, there are a bunch more innocuous things that a person with the right know-how can use to learn things about you or the people around you that you’d never expect. For example…

10. Your Netflix Ratings Can Reveal if You’re Gay

Netflix is a great service. For a few bucks a month you get unlimited access to a constantly changing library of content, most of which is tailored towards you. Netflix does this with a number of algorithms that take into account what you watch, for how long, and what overall rating you gave it, and then compares it with similar data from other customers.

It would seem that the only real thing you’d be able to tell about someone from their Netflix habits would be what kind of movies they like, and which celebrity they have a crush on. However, by simply cross-referencing the data Netflix has with other sources (for example movie reviews on IMDb), it is shockingly easy to discern someone’s actual identity from a list of movies they liked. It is then possible to extrapolate from this data and determine someone’s sexuality, political affiliations, and where they live.

As unlikely as this sounds, a team of researchers in 2009, taking part in a competition with Netflix to improve their algorithms, were able to learn all this and more about a bunch of customers. One of these customers later sued Netflix because the data (which was completely anonymous) revealed that she was gay, something she hadn’t even told her family, and she was worried it could be used to out her before she personally felt comfortable doing so. Then again, the lady in question had children, so we’re guessing she could have denied being gay fairly easily if she wasn’t ready to tell someone. It’s for this reason that we highly advise rating every film you see on Netflix arbitrarily to throw them off in the future. Hey, speaking of politics!

9. Owning a Cat is an Indicator of Your Political Views

Like choosing a video game console, or how you like your steak cooked (well-done all the way for this author, come at him in the comments), whether you prefer cats or dogs is a weirdly polarizing topic. While we’re sure there a number of educated guesses you could make about a person based solely on the fact they own a cat, such as their living situation or how often they use that Snapchat filter that makes you look like a dog, you wouldn’t think cat ownership would be an indicator of political affiliation. Weirdly, though, there’s data to support the fact that it kind of is.

As discussed in a 2014 Time magazine article, a number of seemingly unrelated things are actually a fairly useful and accurate indicators of a person’s place on the political spectrum. While some of these things are a little more obvious than others – for example, highly conservative people are less likely to agree that watching pornography while in a relationship is acceptable and liberals are more likely to disagree with the statement “I am proud of my country’s history” – some are a little more… odd.

For example, for reasons that aren’t quite clear, people who agree with the statement that they prefer cats to dogs, by and large, appear to be more liberal than those who disagree, whereas people who use Internet Explorer are more likely to hold conservative views. Though we could chalk this up to being an interesting quirk of statistics, we feel it would be unwise to fully rule out that the possibility that cats want us to live a socialist utopia, free of Internet Explorer. That’s a future we’d actually be kind of curious about, which we’re assuming would be punishable by death in a cat-ruled society.

8. Facebook Has Better Face Detection Software Than the FBI

Due to the secretive and presumably super boring nature of most of their work, the inner workings of the FBI aren’t made privy to the public and, as such, we have no idea what awesome gadgets and technology they have access to that we don’t know about. One thing we can be sure of, though, is that they’re worse at analyzing faces than Facebook.

According to statistics released by both the FBI and Facebook, Facebook’s proprietary facial analysis software is able to accurately identify a person in a photo 98% of the time. A figure that dunks just all over the Feds, who admit that their own software has an accuracy rating of just 85%. Their main reason for this discrepancy is that the FBI very often only have a single photo to go on to identify a person. Facebook, meanwhile, often has hundreds of every person using the site, from multiple angles, allowing them to build a comprehensive image on an individual’s features. In other words, Facebook probably has a better idea of what you look like than the people who see you every day.

7. Stores Like Target Can Predict When You’re Pregnant

You probably remember a few years ago, a story breaking about the store Target correctly predicting that a young girl was pregnant. It got her in trouble when the store sent vouchers for baby stuff to her house, which were noticed by her father, who didn’t know she had a bun in the oven. What you probably didn’t hear about, or see discussed, though, is how Target was able to do this.

Now you’re probably thinking that the girl bought a pregnancy test in a Target, or something a few months earlier, or something. Which is a good assumption, but it’s not how it went down. The store was actually able to make the prediction based purely on the fact the girl had bought cotton balls and some unscented lotion a few weeks earlier. On their own these items don’t seem all that unusual, but the girl’s loyalty card also showed that she’d recently also purchased mineral substances for the first time.

Again, these don’t seem like solid indicators of pregnancy, but Target’s vast reams of data showed that in cases where women bought these items unexpectedly, several months later they’d buy diapers and other baby-related items, too, suggesting that the former items were bought during pregnancy. This allowed the store to accurately predict that the girl was pregnant. Of course they don’t get it right every time, but the fact they’re even able to get it right once is evidence enough that humans are depressingly predictable when it comes to shopping. Speaking of which…

6. Credit Card Companies Know if You’ll Skip Out on a Debt Based on if You Like Birds

Credit cards are like handguns, in that you probably shouldn’t let a person with poor impulse control hold one lest they wave it around in a store and walk out wearing a floor-length chinchilla coat. As evil as they all are, credit card companies, like any of us, just want to get paid. To this end, they hire people to pore through the reams of data they collect to better allow them to predict whether a person is good for the money they borrow.

One of the more unusual predictors of whether a person will pay back a given debt is, rather oddly, buying fancy bird seed. As stupid as it sounds, analysis shows people willing to drop 20 bucks on premium, bald eagle-friendly bird seed seldom ever default on a payment. As innocuous as such a purchase seems, it’s one of those things that is indicative of a person’s overall personality. Think of it like littering, or being rude to waiters: it’s a small, almost trivial thing, but the kind of person who does it likely acts like an entitled douche in other areas of their life. As summed up by author Charles Duhigg:

“If you buy premium wild bird seed, you’re spending a lot of money on something that you’re going to give away to birds you don’t own. They [Credit card companies] basically figured out that the types of people who do that, pay off their credit card on time, because they feel this sense of moral obligation.”

Because of this, bird seed and other such purchases are often taken into consideration by credit card companies when it comes to deciding how much credit to give a person.

5. Buying Underwear can Indicate the State of the Economy

The economy is a weird, nebulous entity that few people are capable of fully understanding. That’s why we’re going to give you all a crash course in something known as the ‘underwear index’. Basically, there’s an observable and studied correlation between sales of men’s underwear and the current state of the economy. In a nutshell, during times of economic hardship, men buy fewer pairs. Which seems… well, obvious. We all make sacrifices when times are tough, but underwear is unique in that while it’s an essential purchase, it is one that can be put off.

Economists liken it to “driving your car for another 10,000 miles instead of having it serviced.” It’s a minor choice that says a lot about the person making it. Unlike other items of men’s clothing that are purchased sporadically, underwear is a predictable purchase, so when sales of it drop, it is a fairly reasonable indicator of the current state of the economy. If 10 million dudes aren’t willing to drop 10 bucks on a new dong pouch, there’s a good chance that the economy they work in isn’t all that strong.

4. Whether or Not You Kiss Your Partner Before Work Can Influence if You’ll Die in a Car Crash

Few things are more intimate than kissing, and we’re just going to go right ahead and say that if there’s a person out there who lets you kiss their face, all available research says that you should be doing as much as possible. Research has shown that men who kiss their wives before work every morning live longer, earn more money, and are 50% less likely to be killed in a car crash.

You may scoff at this, but numbers never lie and they all point to kissing your partner or spouse being awesome. Now, we don’t live in the Harry Potter universe, so the act of expressing your love doesn’t cast a magical bubble around you or anything. It’s more an act that’s indicative of how you live the rest of your life. Like a lot of other things on this list, kissing is a minor thing that says a lot about your overall personality, with people who do it the most being more likely to be hold a positive outlook on life (sad people are notoriously bad kissers).

Psychologists believe that kissing your partner each morning is a strong indicator that you’re, overall, a positive person, which in turn suggests you live a healthier lifestyle, which in turn suggests you’ll live longer, earn more, and be less likely to drive into a ditch. Again, it’s not that kissing magically fixes all your problems, but if you have someone in your life you care about romantically, it’s probably not a bad idea to do it more. The worst that can happen is you get to grab a handful of butt, which is always great.

3. Owning an iPhone Makes You a Terrible Person (According to Android Users)

The internet has a collective throb on for anything that involves making fun of iPhone owners, which is why studies like the ones we’re about the quote often go viral when they’re released. For example, in late 2016 a study was conducted that found that iPhone owners, in general, seem to display lower levels of “honesty and integrity”, a finding that was gleefully touted across the web by avid Android users.

While the study did indeed find a seemingly concrete correlation between personality and the brand of phone a person had in their pocket, to the point the lead researcher said they could predict what type of phone a person used based on a simple, unrelated questionnaire with about 70% accuracy, it’s not the whole story. One thing that was mysteriously left out of all the articles slamming iPhone users is that the study also showed that iPhone owners were more likely to be female, have a degree, and earn significantly more than their Android using peers. Which goes hand-in-hand with data showing rich people tend to be douchebags anyway, due to a sense of perceived entitlement.

2. Using Twitter Means You Have Shorter Relationships

Most everyone these days uses social media. The internet has resulted in a noticeable increase in the amount of people being joined at the hip, with anywhere between 5 and 10% of long term relationships today beginning online, depending on your source. With the advent and subsequent removal of the stigma surrounding online dating, the sites that offer the service have an unbelievable amount of information related to the world of getting our freak on with the opposite sex. One of the more unusual things people parsing through the endless reams of data sites like OKCupid have is that there’s a link between relationship length and the use of Twitter.

Though nobody at OKCupid is exactly sure why this is the case, the site’s co-founder has explained that the data shows a “measurable and consistent” difference between the overall length of Twitter users’ relationships compared to those who don’t tweet that much, or at all. The key thing here is that this only seems to apply to people who use Twitter all the time. You know, like those people who always Tweet pictures of their food and stuff. Numerous theories have arisen about why exactly this seems to be the case, ranging from shorter attention spans of Twitter users to an increasingly narcissistic society. Or, you know, it could just be that people who use Twitter all the time are kind of boring to be around? Anyway, erm, why not follow us on Twitter?

1. Simply Liking the Taste of Beer Means You’re More Likely to Put Out on a First Date

Sex on the first date is a weirdly antiquated taboo that, nonetheless, has a huge social stigma surrounding it. But lets say that, like 99% of people in the world you, our viral young (or young at heart) reader, like sex and want to be matched with someone who similarly likes doing the horizontal hug. All you have to do is ask if they like the taste of beer.

Again gleaned from data released by OKCupid, the site found that among users of all ages, genders, and sexualities, the single biggest signifier of whether they would consider having sex on a first date is if they responded positively to the question “Do you like the taste of beer?” There’s no data about why exactly this is the case, but we’re guessing that it has something to do with those people spending their first date getting hammered. Oh, uh, totally unrelated… happy St. Patrick’s Day, everyone! Wink, wink.

Interestingly, while the beer question was the only accurate signifier OKCupid could find that indicated a woman would enjoy some intercourse a few hours after meeting someone, for men there were a few more… interesting results. For example, the site also found that men who’d find the prospect of nuclear annihilation exciting, can imagine themselves taking a life, and would feel comfortable launching a nuke were also more likely to have sex on a first date. Then again, if you’re comfortable ending the world in a nuclear holocaust, we’re guessing the taboo about touching genitals moments after meeting isn’t something you’d be all that concerned about.



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