The Tattoo You Never Wanted

Professor Ransbotham’s class on data analytics two weeks ago left me with a great amount to think about. ‘Big Data’ has been a buzzword for the past few years, however it is only recently that I’ve began to understand the implications of it. Data Scientists are constantly improving their analytical methods and the granularity of the ‘Big Data’ is increasing very rapidly. The implications of this are massive. Previously there was plenty of data out there but its utilization was marginal at best. Through these improvements, companies and even people have the ability to gather large amounts of personal information from a small slice of data. Thus leaving you with a ‘digital tattoo’, you never asked for.

After watching Alessandro Acquisti’s TED Talk What Will The Future Look Like Without Secrets? for class, I stumbled upon Juan Enriquez’s equally insightful talk Your Life Online, Permanent as a Tattoo.  In a similar vein to Acquisti’s talk, Enriquez discusses the concepts of anonymity and privacy in the 21st century. He compares the data amassed through social media from Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter etc. to a ‘digital tattoo’. Like a normal ink tattoo, these ‘digital tattoos’ tell a great story and speak for themselves.

According to a Harris Poll, only 21% of Americans have one or more tattoos which indicate that the majority of the population (79%) choose not to ink themselves. Even if you were to abstain from using social media, your digital tattoo may still exist. While smaller, it may still exist through other people’s content. For example, Your friend may upload a picture to Social Media with you in it, in 2015 it is incredibly difficult, if not impossible to not have a digital tattoo.

Enriquez takes the spin on Andy Warhol’s famous words, “ In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes” and claims that in today’s world “In the future, everyone will only be anonymous for 15 minutes”. The digital tattoos that we build up are the closest to immortality that humans will reach in this century and this is a very troubling idea. Enriquez emphasizes that our ‘tattoos’ will live on for much longer than we ever will, and therefore must be extraordinarily prudent with what one posts, shares and likes.


How true is this anymore? Enriquez argues the opposite and says in the future everybody will be anonymous for only fifteen minutes

However, no matter how careful one is on social media, the advances in facial recognition technology and predictive modeling tools may make careful judgement may no longer act as a guard to personal information. In 2012, Facebook acquired which is a facial recognition tool and as of 2011 it had gathered data for billions of faces across Facebook and platforms. Applications such as also leverage facial recognition technology to personalize retail sales and deals for individual customers and notifies consumers of products they might find interesting when they enter the store. The commercial applications of facial recognition software is a real concept that will be utilized in the coming years. The capability of  identifying someone and immediately  download their records which include their gender, age, race and personality traits is too lucrative of a business model to be ignored and not developed.

Stanford University recently published an article that spoke of a similar concept from the Curly Fry Conundrum TED talk we discussed in class. Like Golbeck’s talk, the article touches upon the idea that a Facebook Like provides much more information about the user than at face value. For example, the pattern of your likes and activity on Facebook could determine whether or not your parents were divorced. Dong argues that Facebook and other social media platforms actually convey a truer version of a person than what someone may reveal in a face to face interview or coffee date. She suggests that it is easier to put on a facade for a thirty minute interaction than to monitor and control your appearance on years of Facebook posts and history.

I thought I would put this theory to the test, to see how accurate my ‘digital tattoos’ were. Using the website , a tool published by the University of Cambridge, I was able to see how much my ‘likes’ on Facebook divulged about my personality and life.

Below are the results. They aren’t completely accurate, for example I’m 21 and the modeling tool suggested I was 26. 

Screen Shot 2015-11-08 at 4.51.38 PM Screen Shot 2015-11-08 at 4.51.54 PM

Overall, it didn’t do a horrible job however, there is still much to be improved in terms of accuracy and descriptiveness. Nevertheless, in the coming years these tools will not doubt be modified and improved dramatically and I whether was planning to or not will be covered in a ‘tattoos’.


  1. Nice post, Bisman. You touch on an interesting topic – digital tattoos are real and are often more embarrassing than the permanent tattoos that 21% of our population got when they turned 18 :-).

    I decided to give Apply Magic Sauce a try and received the following message:
    Sorry, we are unable to generate a prediction. An insufficient number of your Likes match with those in our database, and we don’t believe in guesswork.

    Either way, it’s interesting that they were able to generate a prediction on your personality based on your activity since that information could be relevant to employers and potential partners. If a company is more laid back, they probably don’t want employees who are super tense or need a lot of structure. I can see how this can be more valuable than the traditional Meyer’s Briggs test since it could be argued that its more representative of our actual interests and feelings, whereas Meyer’s Briggs can be manipulated.

  2. ashleighpopera · ·

    Really interesting post Bisman! I also gave Apply Magic Sauce a try (it thinks I’m 25), and it was really interesting to see all the different inferences they made about both myself and my friends just from my Facebook profile. I definitely agree that these tools that are forming our “digital tattoos” will undoubtedly improve dramatically in the future, and that this topic will only continue to grow in significance in our lives. It seems that nowadays it is nearly impossible to completely avoid having an online presence. Even children have social media profiles created for them and huge follower bases these days; its crazy to think that their lives and are being chronicled online before they can even read or speak for themselves. Regardless, thanks for sharing your thoughts on this topic, it’s definitely something everyone should take a look at!

  3. Great post Bisman! Prediction algorithms are inexplicably getting stronger and stronger every day, and, to be fair, there is no getting away from it unless we completely remove ourselves from social media or even the internet in general. As eternal optimists, we as a society can always find solace in the thought that all those will only be used for marketing and the ‘betterment of society’. Its hard to come up with highly nefarious things to do with that, but I’m sure someone, somewhere, someday will do it.
    I also found the idea of permanent internet tattoos very interesting. We all have ‘tattoos’ for sure, and as many, many people on the internet have demonstrated that they are indeed permanent owing to the internet’s highly unforgiving memory. The only solace in this situation is that there is so much information and so many ‘tattoos’ that the average person doesn’t make a big enough splash in the sea of the internet. Unless, you actively do something to attract everyone to come see your tattoos. Perfect evidence being the Spanish man Mario Costeja who sued Google over the right to be forgotten in the EU. His case was that when he Googled his name, somewhere deep in the results was the news clipping of his house’s foreclosure notice. As expected, he won the case, the law was passed and Google was forced to remove the link but there were two major issues here. Firstly, it only removed the link from he search result and not from the actual website (unforgiving memory at its best), and secondly, the many month long case and wide media coverage ensured that everyone in the world knew who he was and that his house was foreclosed. The irony of this situation is literally unforgettable (pun intended).

  4. Great post! I went ahead and tried the apply magic saucer and got really interesting results. I also got 26 years of age which i found surprising. I also took some of their individual tests for each categories and got extremely similar results to the footprint they initially gave me. This was astonishing and a bit scary actually. It is incredible how or digital footprint takes into account everything that we do and comes up with something really accurate to what seems to be us. I guess the only thing i disagreed with the test was the age, but then again it is a perception and you can easily obtain someone’s true age. The scary part is what companies can do with this sort of information. On a predictive side note, i feel like this will lead to what i think will ultimately happen with online marketing. I believe big data will help companies target people individually and make every ad out there completely personable to the person. Great post!

  5. Bisman, this is a great post and a great topic to write about. It is outright scary what something as simple, as often enough as thoughtless as a “Like” can give away so much about ourselves. I’m normally not one of the scaredy-cats when it comes to privacy etc. (though I do make sure my info is only shared with friends on FB etc.), but I did get freaked out when FB suddenly started to automatically tag people in photos based on its facial recognition software, and I went to turn that feature off (I hope). I loved the analogy of a digital tattoo and that you went and tried that software that’s trying to analyze who you are based on your history of likes and such. Glad to see actually that they didn’t quite get everything right. I hope that at some point there will be a digital tattoo laser removal tool as well, like there is for all those other tattoos many people out there never wanted. Thanks for a well-researched, thoughtful post!

  6. Great topic to discuss! I’m with @nayyarp12 and think there is no way of avoiding the trail of our internet history that is the ultimate tattoo that people may regret later on. In fact I think it would be great to see people embrace it in a way much like people get permanent ink to mark moments in their life. Think about it: the year is 2065… looking back on these great blog posts the class wrote 50 years ago.

  7. I also gave Apply Magic Sauce a try and it actually got my real age, but it wasn’t very accurate in predicting my interests and behavior. I’m going to disagree with what Dong said about social media platforms providing a more accurate version of ourselves than an in person conversation. This statement undermines the significance of body language and tone and what they can reveal, which a social media platform can never provide. I think for applications like Apply Magic Sauce to really work, the FB user has to be super active with posting, sharing, liking, commenting, etc, and since I rarely post, this tool really can’t do a lot for me. Thanks for bringing that up!

  8. Bisman, thank you for sharing your post with us. I always look forward to reading your posts. It is very fascinating to see how much data the social media platforms, websites and tools get from us. It almost feels like with these digital tattoos now, big brother is watching you all the time. After all, as you said much data is out there but it depends on how we use them that makes the difference. This is what we definitely learn in professor Sam’s class. There are millions of datasets out there, but companies each use these sets in a way to make data driven effective decisions and depending on how well these companies use them , the outcomes differ. Facial Recognition was definitely one of many more Fb advancements to come. When it first came out, I personally freaked out. But now Fb gives you friends suggestions, and events that you definitely will be interested in. When I meet people these days, I don’t know if I have met them earlier or if it just was due to the stalking Ive done on “People You Might Know” feature. It feels like every friend recommendation Fb gives me, I end up meeting very soon. I really didn’t know earlier about the applymagicsauce tool. But now after you mentioned it, I am looking to see what results it will give me. I can now definitely add it to the analytical tools we learn in Business School. Thank you for this great content, for new insightful definitions and facts, and for the amazing choice of topic. I personally think Digital tattoos will forever remain, and will keep getting better and better and scarier with time.

  9. Glad you found the Enriquez video. I almost assigned that one as well. What I find so funny about these types of “profile predictors” is that it predicted that I was 28, even though I explicitly list on my profile that I’m 43. I think much of this stuff is just a Rorchach test, where we see what we want to see.

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