If you think those sneaky, personally tailored Facebook ads are terrifying, get this: The social networking site can also figure out whom you’re romantically involved with — and if your relationship is about to crash and burn — just by analyzing your network of friends.
“Using data from a large sample of Facebook users, we find that this task can be accomplished with high accuracy,” note Lars Backstrom of Facebook and Jon Kleinberg of Cornell University in their new study, “Romantic Partnerships and the Dispersion of Social Ties: A Network Analysis of Relationship Status on Facebook.”
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Released Monday and packed with mind-numbing mathematical formulas, the study was intended to discover how Facebook could perfect the accuracy of its content ads. In the process of analyzing a random set of 1.3 million users (all of whom noted they were either married or in a relationship), the duo realized that they could pick out a person’s spouse with a better than one-in-two chance, and a girlfriend or boyfriend with a one-in-three-chance; they could also predict, scarily, whether there would be a breakup within two months.
Without getting too bogged down in the details, here’s how they figured out who was linked to whom: It wasn’t by looking at the number of mutual friends two people share, but rather at something called the “dispersion” factor, which, the study states, "looks not just at the number of mutual friends of two people, but also at the network structure on these mutual friends; roughly, a link between two people has high dispersion when their mutual friends are not well connected to one another.”
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When couples are connected to people from far-flung parts of each other's lives, that's considered "high dispersion." The researchers found that couples without "high dispersion" are 50 percent more likely to break up over the next two months than those with it. Why? “A spouse or romantic partner is a bridge between a person’s different social worlds,” Kleinberg explained to the New York Times. Or at least, according to the study, they should be if the relationship has a solid future.
So if your boyfriend is in with all of your current pals but not your best friend from junior high, then you might want to prepare yourself. Just sayin'.
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