In order for certain software, websites, and operating systems to work properly, information about the user is needed. A user profile may also form part of an account on an ecommerce site. Rather than requesting information repeatedly, this information is often gathered and stored. The name of this collection of information is a user profile.
Information provided in a user profile is used differently, depending on the context. Computer operating systems have basic identifying and contact information, as well as a password, and they keep the data for different user profiles separate for privacy. Users may even have separate applications. Often, there is an administrator account that must be accessed in order to make important changes. The operating system may take user profile data to pre-fill forms.
A web browser, on the other hand, takes a much different approach to a user profile. In this case, the profile contains the user’s customizations to the programs operation that personalize the user’s experience. This could include add-ons, bookmarks, cookies, extensions, themes, searches, and plug-ins.
On social networking sites, data in user profiles is used partly to identify oneself fully enough so that it is possible to be found. Depending on what the social network is — some are more business-oriented, while others focus on friends — profiles are designed to help users be recognized by current and former friends, acquaintances, colleagues, teammates, classmates, and others. There is generally an opportunity to provide a photograph. The less business-oriented the site, the more personal and historical information may be requested, such as school history, a list of favorite things, one’s birthday, names of family members and pets, and other identifying information. On social networking sites such as Facebook, the people one has “friended” and the groups or pages one has become a fan of may also become part of one’s profile.
With online dating sites, the information requested in the user profile becomes even more extensive and more personal. Participants may be asked for their views on religion, drinking, drugs, politics, children, marriage, diet, and detailed information about the kind of person they are seeking and to what end. They may also be asked to provide detailed information about their personality traits, habits, preferences, and behaviors. Because online sites generally provide no check on the answers given, the possibility for lying is present, and because people may wish to favorably impress a prospective partner, this may provide the motivation. Research has shown that, in fact, deception in online dating profiles is frequent, if often minor.