“What type of dog are you?” “I scored 9 out of 10 on this vocabulary test! Can you beat me? Take the quiz!” “Are you a true New Yorker?”
If you use Facebook (or other social media sites) you undoubtedly see quizzes like this nearly every day. Sometimes the quizzes appear in Facebook advertisements. Sometimes they appear because one of your friends took the quiz, and the quiz appeared as a post by your friend.
Is it safe to take those quizzes? As with many security topics, the answer is a somewhat vague “yes and no.” There are two areas to think about. The first is privacy – are you giving away information that should be kept confidential? The second is, by interacting with the quiz, are you giving permission for future interactions? Let’s talk about both those aspects, and then you can make an informed decision.
Bear in mind, however, that quizzes like this were likely used by Cambridge Analytica to harvest personal details about Facebook users – details that were allegedly used to target political advertising and disinformation.
First, content. When you take a quiz, you may not realize the extent of the personal information you are providing. Does the quiz ask you for your favorite color? For the year you graduated secondary school? For the type of car you drive? All of that information could potentially be aggregated into a profile. That’s especially true if you take multiple quizzes from the same company.
You don’t know, and you can’t realistically learn, if the organization behind the quiz is storing the information — and what it’s doing with it. Certainly, they can tag you as someone who likes quizzes, and show you more of them. However, are they using that information to profile you for their advertisements? Are they depositing cookies or other tracking mechanisms on your computer? Are they selling that information to other organizations?
A quiz about your favorite color is probably benign. A quiz about “What type of dog are you?” might indicate that you are a dog owner. It’s likely that ads for dog food might be in your future!
Be wary of quizzes that ask for any information that might be used for identity theft, like your home town or the year you were born. While you might sometimes post information like that on Facebook, that information may not be readily accessible to third parties, like the company that offers up those fun quizzes. If you provide such info to the quiz company, you are handing it to them on a silver platter.
Consider the “Is My Dog Fat Quiz,” hosted on the site GoToQuiz. It asks for your age range and your gender – which is totally unnecessary for asking about your dog’s weight and dietary habits. (You can see the lack of professionalism with misspellings like, “How much excersize does your dog get?” This quiz isn’t about you or your dog, it’s about gathering information for Internet marketers.
Second, permission for future interactions. Sometimes when you click on a Facebook quiz, you take the quiz right inside Facebook. When you do so, you are interacting with the quiz giver – which means that future posts or quizzes by that quiz giver will show up on your news feed. You may be totally fine with that… it’s not particularly harmful. However, you should be aware that this is the case. (Those posts and quizzes may also show up on your friends’ news feeds as well, spreading the marketer’s reach)
What concerns me more is when clicking the quiz opens up an external website. When you are on an external website, whatever happens is outside of Facebook’s privacy protections and security protocols. You have no idea what the quiz site will do with your information.
Well, now, perhaps you do.