It’s not just Facebook – online quizzes also collect data about you

Online quizzes help us to understand ourselves: from what type of 90s kid that we were at which fairy tale was actually about our life. But more often than not, each question gives the site you’re on (and the companies they share your answers with) valuable insight into your interests.

The privacy trade-offs that come with using social media are now clear to many. On Facebook, for example, almost all the information you provide to the service is sold to traders on behalf of Targeted advertising. Although it was true for more than a decade, the recent Cambridge Analytica scandal has made this clearer than ever. But people are followed all over the web, even when they’re not on Facebook.

“Any survey asking you anything, from, ‘What would you do in a certain situation?’ to your favorite color, gleans information about you that is useful to algorithms,” Max Kilger, director of analytics at the University of Texas at San Antonio, said in an interview. “Any quiz you answer, on or off from Facebook, has a chance that the site will resell it or combine it with existing data about you.”

Cambridge Analytica used a personality quiz called “it’s my digital life”. 270,000 Facebook users chose to take the quiz, but the test required candidates to provide access not only to their profile data, but also to the profile data of all of their Facebook friends. In total, 50 million people had their personal information sent to Cambridge Analytica, most of whom had not passed the test. According to Facebookit was not a violation of his service.

There are other large-scale quizzes like that around the internet, but the simplest ones also siphon data. “It’s a classic use of quizzes and personality tests,” Pam Dixon, executive director of the World Privacy Forum, said in a phone interview. “With most online quizzes, it’s important to ask if this quiz exists just to capture my personal data, likes and dislikes, to better target my information,” Dixon said. “A medical-themed quiz, for example, might ask for symptoms. Unless your hospital or doctor presents the quiz to you, it is generally not covered by any health privacy law.

According to Dixon, you can find out which online questionnaires are sharing your responses with other companies with a little digging. “You can tell if a quiz site is selling your data by looking at its privacy policy. Especially when it says phrases like “based on your responses, we will partner with affiliates to bring you offers that are of interest to you”. services, many quiz site terms are effective only while you are on and using the site.

Here are some examples.

Google Surveys privacy report is available here. Although the search engine states that it does not sell your data to external advertisers, those who use the Google Survey platform have the ability to learn granular details about their users who complete the survey. Sites can even get paid by Google if users take surveys, thanks to Opinion Rewards tool.

It’s not just Google. Another example is the site Pollfish “collects, processes and analyzes data and provides its clients with statistical tables, data, information and tools/options for further analysis.” Similar language can be seen on QuickSurvey Privacy Policy. The Facebook personality quiz site Playful expresses a similar language in their privacy policy. Even a place like Pottermorethe official site of many fans Harry Potter readers use to see which Hogwarts house they would land in, has that language in its Confidentiality declaration. According to subsection 4.2 of Pottermore, “We may on occasion link or combine the information we collect about you with information we receive from other sources.” The profile it builds of you is used to serve you advertisements.

The information and entertainment site BuzzFeed, no doubt, popularized internet quizzes. Essential questions likeWhat emoji am I?” Where “Can you cook dinner for two on a budget?are answered via a simple line of questioning. Although it’s easy to see how certain questions, when shared with marketers, give companies insight into what you really like. This gives companies a better idea of ​​who you are and the best ways to convince you to buy things.

“You know what a puppet you are, but BuzzFeed does not attach your quiz results to personal information,” a BuzzFeed the spokesperson said. “All quiz response data is anonymized. We do not sell our quiz data to customers. All data shared with customers is aggregated, anonymized and comes only from their own campaigns,” the spokesperson said.

The company uses “aggregated information to create better quizzes and content, both editorial and branded,” they said. This information is not used “to change what people see on the site, but we have discussed whether Rowlfs around the world would prefer to see certain types of content and how we could potentially customize content seamlessly” , said the spokesperson.

Although information gleaned from regular sources BuzzFeed quizzes remain within the company, branded editorial quiz data is shared with the company sponsoring the publication (for example: Verizon in this post’ Case). BuzzFeedquizzes to flee Google’s survey platform.

Dan Barker, an e-commerce and analytics consultant, was one of the people who participated in this conversation in 2014. His previous blog post about it pulls back the curtain to show what’s really going on behind a quiz. “What BuzzFeed is not unusual – in fact, their approach to data seems to be friendlier than many other similar sites,” Barker said in a Twitter post. “There are a lot of bad practices that end users seem to ignore, and that’s on the more benign end of the scale. Hopefully awareness will change in response to more coverage of the issues.

Barker says people who are dying to take a quiz should use incognito mode or a private window on their browser.

BuzzFeed keeps all the information it learns about you to itself and it doesn’t affect what you see around their site (yet). However, other sites use Google Surveys as well as sites like Yougov, Pollfish, Quicksurveys and even Cambridge Analytica. survey can be used to create profiles about their users.

Who cares if they have a bunch of useless quiz data?

Tech companies continue to underestimate or hide in the fine print how much data they actually receive from users. Many might answer, “We do not care“While some may hate the idea of ​​companies recording quiz answers to create an image of you and share them with other anonymous companies, others don’t care. If you have nothing to hide , why should you care that someone can see how you answer stupid quizzes?

“We’ve seen how machine learning and algorithms can group people into buckets,” Dr. Kilger said. “Very innocuous questions can lead to many decisions being made behind users’ backs. They may not be aware of everything they’re missing because some algorithm somewhere said “Well, that’s not a very good prospect.” Pro Publica revealed that Facebook allows real estate listings to exclude people categorized as African-American, Spanish-speaking, mothers of high school students, and more.

The potential problems go beyond housing. “That health data that you gave to that quiz, for example, might make you pay more for health insurance or might determine what lead generation you get around credit,” Dixon said. “Your data is important and it lasts a very long time.”

April 2, 2018, 12:30 p.m.: This article has been updated.

Melvin G. Rodriguez