What Demographic Attributes Do Our Digital Footprints Reveal?

To what extent does our online activity reveal who we are? Recent research has demonstrated that the digital traces left by individuals as they browse and interact with others online may reveal who they are and what their interests may be. In the present paper we report a systematic review that synthesises current evidence on predicting demographic attributes from online digital traces. Studies were included if they met the following criteria: (i) they reported findings where at least one demographic attribute was predicted/inferred from at least one form of digital footprint, (ii) the method of prediction was automated, and (iii) the traces were either visible (e.g. tweets) or non-visible (e.g. clickstreams). We identified 327 studies published up until October 2018. Across these articles, 14 demographic attributes were successfully inferred from digital traces; the most studied included gender, age, location, and political orientation. For each of the demographic attributes identified, we provide a database containing the platforms and digital traces examined, sample sizes, accuracy measures and the classification methods applied. Finally, we discuss the main research trends/findings, methodological approaches and recommend directions for future research.

(From the journal abstract)

Joanne Hinds and Adam N. Joinson. 2018. ‘What Demographic Attributes Do Our Digital Footprints Reveal? A Systematic Review’. PLOS ONE, 13 (11): e0207112. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0207112.