Michael Zimmer writes:
Last week, a Facebook dataset was released by a group of researchers (Amanda L. Traud, Peter J. Mucha, Mason A. Porter) in connection with their paper studying the role of user attributes – gender, class year, major, high school, and residence – on social network formations at various colleges and universities. The dataset — referred to by the researchers as the “Facebook 100″ — consists of the complete set of users from the Facebook networks at 100 American schools, and all of the in-network “friendship” links between those users as they existed at a single moment of time in September 2005.
The research paper indicates that the Facebook data was provided to the researchers “in anonymized form byAdam D’Angelo of Facebook.” (D’Angelo left Facebook in 2008.) Curious as to what precisely was included in the data release, and what steps towards anonymization were taken, I downloaded the data (200 MB zip file) on the morning of February 11.
Thus, the datasets include limited demographic information that was posted by users on their individual Facebook pages. The identity of users’ dorm and high schools were obscured by numerical identifiers, but to my surprise, the dataset included each user’s unique Facebook ID number. As a result, while user names and extended profile information were kept out of the data release, a simple query against Facebook’s databases would yield considerable identifiable information for each record. In short, the suggestion that the data has been “anonymized” is seriously flawed.
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