I tried magic sauce, and this is what I thought of it


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Photo by Edwin Gano |

In what sounds like an adult version of “Jack and the Beanstalk,” I tried magic sauce. Predictably, I didn’t wind up the owner of a massive plant splintering the sidewalk. Instead, I wound up face-to-face with a computer that knew more about me than some of my friends did.

Apply Magic Sauce, the latest web application developed by The Psychometrics Centre at The University of Cambridge, links to your Facebook page, and the app looks at every Facebook page you liked. From there, it draws a series of conclusions about your profile by comparing it against a framework of thousands of personality tests and more than 6 million social media profiles.

I didn’t expect it to be right. But it turned out to be stunningly — and disconcertingly — accurate.

It likely predicted I was female and interested in journalism, among other predictions about my religious and political standings, sexuality and intelligence level.

It only missed the mark on my age, where it incorrectly guessed I was 31 instead of 21.

For me, Apply Magic Sauce was just an Internet novelty. But the brains behind the app — Michal Kosinski, David Stillwell, Vesselin Popov and Bartosz Kielczweski — see it playing a number of functions.

It could be a way to quickly evaluate and provide feedback to job applicants.

It could be the solution to creating personalized online applications.

It could simplify the process of customizing how messages are communicated with various people.

And it could be the next tool for market researchers, marketers and advertisers — and the makers of Apply Magic Sauce aren’t oblivious to the app’s utility.

Although it’s not the only reason, Apply Magic Sauce is around to advertise the new tool to private companies who could use it for their own business practices, according to The Washington Post.

In a larger context, Apply Magic Sauce is another tool that’s joined the throng of seemingly all-knowing technologies.

Look at Crystal, a Gmail-compatible app that analyzes the messages sent to you and recommends tactics to communicate better.

Lenovo rolled out Personality Insights, which attempts to hone in on “cognitive and social characteristics” — among other defining qualities — when you feed it texts, tweets and forum posts.

Other apps, too, are similarly invasive, especially if they’re mobile.

In a 2010 Wall Street Journal investigation, of 110 popular mobile apps, 56 shared unique device IDs, codes that cannot be changed or turned off, with other companies. Smartphone owners weren’t aware and didn’t give consent to have their information shared.

A handful of the 56 guilty apps included TextPlus4, Pandora, Paper Toss and Grindr.

"In the world of mobile, there is no anonymity," said the Mobile Marketing Association’s Michael Becker. “A cellphone is always with us. It's always on."

According to the same investigation, smartphone users “are all but powerless” to limit the tracking, because most mobile app users don’t have the ability to opt out of as much phone tracking as possible — it’s more possible on computers.

But while computers have erasable cookies, or small tracking files, social media platforms remain as persisting forms of identity profiling.

The many pages you liked in eighth grade — and never got around to deleting — feed into the Internet.

The most insignificant moves on social media don’t dissolve into the digital cosmos, contrary to popular belief.

Apply Magic Sauce is one reminder of many that while friends forget, the Internet doesn’t. And that, arguably, might just be scarier than seeing a picture from 2007 resurface to the top of your Facebook newsfeed.


Katie Park

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