When we talk about the dangers of not taking care of our privacy on the Internet, we rarely automatically think of sophisticated software designed to extract important data from our ongoing interactions with the web: entering our card number into an online payment box, filling out a registration form on a certain website, or even searching for keywords on Google.

However, it is increasingly common that the information that data analysts and specialists in data mining work with are not lines that we have typed in Internet spaces that we thought were private and protected, but the things we do in social networks that are open to many people. In other words, what puts our privacy in check are the actions we take on the Internet so that information about us reaches more people and, at the same time, we have information about others.

Privacy on Facebook

The clearest example of this lack of voluntary privacy could be seen in the number of people we have added as friends on the most important social network: Facebook. It is increasingly common to have a massive amount of people added, even if our profile is not created to promote our products or services.

An interesting study

At this point, we should no longer ask ourselves what percentage of these people is made up of friends, but simply how many of these people we have added to Facebook we are able to recognize . The answer, according to a research promoted by a series of scientists from California State University and Yale University, is that friends and acquaintances may not even add up to 75% of the people we have added to Facebook, at least with the sample used (a part of the US population).

In other words, the number of people we really know from our Facebook contacts could be as low as 3 out of 4. The rest of the people? We have serious problems remembering your first or last name .

Do you recognize this person?

The article reporting on the research, published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, gives more clues about how this study was approached.

To conduct the data collection, the research team designed a computer program called What’s Her Face(book) in which each of the more than 4,000 participants who tested it had to enter the first name, last name or first and last name of people randomly chosen from their Facebook contact list. The “card” about the person to be identified contained only five photos: the profile image and four photos on which it was tagged.

If only one first name or surname was entered, one of the letters could be missed so that the attempt could be counted as a success, while if a first name and at least one surname were entered, a margin of 3 letters of error was left. Participants were encouraged to identify as many people as possible in 90 seconds, which was the time the game lasted, and they could play again as many times as they wanted. The average number of games played by each person was 4.

The result? On average, participants were only able to identify 72.7% of their Facebook friends , which was an average of 650. In other words, out of the average 650 people added to Facebook, participants were only able to say the name of 472 of them, not even 3 out of 4 people added to this social network.

In detail

Beyond this result obtained on average, there are some differences between subgroups of individuals. Differences that, in any case, do not even begin to cover the distance from the average of 72.7% to 100% of successes that would theoretically be expected if the participants’ Facebook friends were also friends in real life.

For example, men proved to be better at identifying other men , while women also proved to be more adept at recognizing people of the same sex.

In addition, women generally scored better than men, getting the name right 74.4% of the time, while men averaged 71%.

On the other hand, as expected, those people with less people on their contact list obtained better results : around 80% of correct answers, which contrasts with the 64.7 success rate of people with more people added.

A slight advantage

Theoretically, the results obtained by people who had played before should be better than those of the rest, since they had the opportunity to have more time to identify the people who were not recognized at the beginning. In addition, every time a person was misidentified, the name of that Facebook contact would appear on the screen , which should give a significant advantage when it comes to getting a good score for the next turn.

However, those who played the most only managed to improve by an average of 2% of their score, an increase that seems laughable considering the number of times they continue to fail even on the last attempt.