You may have seen these quizzes show up on your Facebook feed: Which “Downton Abbey” — or “Harry Potter” or “Girls” or “Parks and Recreation” — character are you?
Or these popular ones from the website BuzzFeed: “What State Do You Actually Belong In?” Or “Which Classic Rock Band Are You?”
BuzzFeed and another website, Zimbio, abound with such quizzes. Other websites offer free IQ tests, longevity and personality tests.
I am as vulnerable as anyone to clicking on these quizzes (I was inordinately pleased to learn that I am most like Albus Dumbledore).
But what might we be giving away when we take an Internet quiz?
“Quizzes are fun and entertaining but most are designed to collect information as well,” says Stacey Irwin, associate professor of communications at Millersville University.
According to an article on PCWorld.com, online quizzes are “a powerful tool for companies to collect your data and even your money — and often in ways you might not notice.”
If something’s labeled a quiz, “people tend to give better answers, which increases the earnestness of the information,” Irwin says, noting, “If the end result of the quiz is fun — you like the character they thought you most resemble, then you share it with your social media networks and everyone has a good laugh.
“So you are now sharing your friends list, your likes and dislikes in music and movies, and those other bits of information available on Facebook and Twitter with whoever made the quiz, and the future people these folks might want to share it with. Some people just think that they are not that interesting — who cares if they know my friends and my music and my favorite movies, right?”
But, Irwin cautions, “When you ‘share’ this data, you do not know where it is going.’’
Many of us have become conditioned to just clicking “yes” or “sure,” when asked if we want to share something on Facebook. We click right on by the window telling us all the things we’re agreeing to give access to, without really taking in the details, says Stephanie Elzer Schwartz, professor of computer science at Millersville University.
When you do this, Schwartz says, “Then you really can be opening yourself up — at least to what you’re giving access to in terms of your Facebook account.”
Catherine Bartosevich, press director for BuzzFeed, says, “At this point, we only collect very basic data that we see on any other BuzzFeed post — engagements, shares, time on site, unique visitors, etc. Quizzes are obviously a big priority for us and we are building new features and analytics for them.”
But, she adds, “We would never share individual specific data.”
BuzzFeed may not. But when you share the results of a quiz on Facebook, you are giving up control of what that quiz reveals about you.
That information can be used “to make inferences about many things like political habits, buying habits, parental choices, technology needs and wants, and vacation and travel interests … just to name a few data-driven areas,” Irwin says.
Self-generated quizzes on sites such as Quotev and AllTheTests “do not seem to be hooked into a large data storage network, Irwin says.
But if you have to submit your birth date to sign up or log on, beware: “The quizzes facilitate a data collection culture, for sure,” Irwin says.
So, how to take a quiz without compromising your privacy?
The most obvious tip: Stick to quizzes published in hard copy. (This worked for generations of Cosmo readers!)
If that seems unreasonable, at least check the privacy policies of the websites you frequent; these policies often are found in the legal section of a website’s “About Us” page. If you’re on Facebook, be sure to read Facebook’s data use policy; it’s eye-opening.
If you take an online quiz, resist the temptation to share the results on Facebook or other social networking sites.
Check out the website offering the quiz. Note the website’s name and host name; Schwartz says there are free online tools that will enable you to check a site’s reputation.
These tools may be found at sites such as PhishTank.com and URLBlacklist.com; a more complete list may be found at http://zeltser.com/combating-malicious-software/lookup-malicious-websites.html.
Don’t take a quiz that requires you to sign in with personal details.
Never take a quiz that requires you to submit your credit card information.
Schwartz also points out that questions that might “seem very innocuous” — “What street did you grow up on?” for example — may be aimed at ferreting out your account passwords or answers to security questions.
And most of all, “be mindful,” Schwartz says, noting that if you take Internet quizzes routinely, you may get so “used to doing these things that you don’t realize that you’re giving away your privacy.”
If you really like taking surveys, take the one on the left side of this page. We aren't collecting your personal information.
How It’s Done appears every other Sunday in Alive.