The Truth Behind Online Quizzes
Interviewer: It is Tech Tuesday and today we are talking about those Internet quizzes. People love them, they take them, they share them, but you really need to be careful. Some of them are actually collecting information about you and sometimes for nefarious reasons. With us now, Ryan Eldridge, co-founder of Nerds on Call. Hey, Ryan.
Interviewer: So those quizzes sometimes, they are just for fun, right? They are interesting. All I want to know what they would say about me. Your friends do it, you want to do it too but not so fast.
Ryan: I will tell you. I am Ariel. I am the Disney Princess Ariel when I take that quiz. I am just saying.
Interviewer: I’ve seen them all.
Ryan: They are kind of cool and they’re a little bit fun, but there is a secret dark side to these quizzes. Some of them aren’t that bad. When you are online, we kind of think of each website as an individual, like island, right? But it really isn’t. All of them are connected in different ways and these are creating marketing profiles about you. So if you go in there and you say, “Which Disney princess am I?” Or, “Which Harry Potter character am I?” And you click on a link and then you share it on your Facebook page. You usually log in with your Facebook account.
Interviewer: Well, usually you see it on your Facebook page, right? It’s in your news feed, your friend took it so you click on it, opens another website with these quiz.
Ryan: Yup. And then in order to get your results, you have to log in with Facebook or log in with email address and what that does is it attaches all of your answers to your new behavioral profile that made up for you. And then the marketers, the marketing companies, they can use that data to market different things to either on Facebook or elsewhere. Plus when you share it on Facebook, they are getting free access to all of your contacts, all of your friends and everything else. And here is that something that is super creepy, most people don’t know is a lot of these marketers will actually score you based on your email address. If it’s connected to Facebook, they will say, “Oh, this person is worth like an 87,” and then they will sell that to other marketers.
Interviewer: Oh! No, no, no.
Ryan: So you just got to be really careful.
Ryan: So there is a couple of websites that do different things. We came up with couple of different categories. One is talking about, it’s called Sharecare and it does a RealAge assessment. We found this I think on Buzz feed.
Interviewer: Okay. Sharecare.
Ryan: And what is does is you answer bunch of questions about, like your personal history, things about your health and stuff like that. And then it gives your biological age is 36 and then you share it on Facebook. But the interesting thing is, this is sponsored by drug companies and what they are doing is taking your answers and then later on emailing you solicitations. And they will say like, “Hey, you answered this question about depression or whatever. If you are depressed, here is some help you can get and here is some medications you can check out. It’s super creepy.
Interviewer: So it’s not just innocent fun. What else do you have? The pay for site.
Ryan: So another one is called CheckMyPersonality. This one is kind of interesting. When you go there, you sign up with your email address or whatever, and then you answer all of these specific questions, but in the end it asks you for your credit card number to get the results. And you think, “Oh, not that big of a deal.” It turns out, according to pcworld.com, what they do is they go in every now and then, and charge your credit card a few pennies to make sure that the account is active, and then they pay a third party person or company to go out and create a big profile about you and then they sell that to a bunch of markets.
Interviewer: Okay. What else do you have for us?
Ryan: So other ones will do just straight up fishing, where they will ask you questions like what is your dog’s name, what street you grew up on…
Interviewer: Right, seems innocent enough.
Ryan: …what is your elementary school? Those are security questions. So if you want to reset your password and it says, “Hey, what school did you go to?” And you are thinking, “Oh, that’s not a big deal,” and now they can reset your passwords at banking websites and other places and sell that information about you.
Interviewer: Okay, we are almost out of time. What can we do? What do we need to know before we take these quizzes? Can you just take them for fun and not share them?
Ryan: Well, you can take them for fun but as soon as they start asking for personal information, email address, log in for you Facebook, anything at all personal, I just wouldn’t do it. It’s just not worth it. The fun of finding out what state you are supposed to be from, really isn’t worth the stuff you’re going to have to give up. You can also go to website called zeltser.com…
Ryan: …and there is a bunch of different URLs where you can test these specific sites you want to go to. It’s kind of hard to read on the screen there, but they are like ABG and Webroot. They give you different tools that will give you the ability to look up that website and see what their score is.
Interviewer: How legit it is.
Ryan: Whether or not they’re legit or not.
Interviewer: That is Zelster. Z-E-L-S-T-E-R.com.
Interviewer: My goodness. Ryan Eldridge, co-founder of Nerds on Call. Don’t take those quizzes.
Ryan: Don’t take them. They are not worth it.
Interviewer: All right, Ryan. Thank you.
Although it may be tempting to find out which Disney princess you are, online quizzes are often just pages designed to waste your time and keep you engaged so that internet marketers can expose you to advertisements or gather information about you. Certain online quiz websites actually maintain a profile about you, especially if you logged in using Facebook or provided an email address. The data gathered from online quizzes is very valuable to marketers because it illustrates users’ habits and interests.
Online quizzes often begin by asking you about your preferences or personality traits. The purpose of these questions is to gather data and decide what ads you are most likely to be interested in; the more they know about what interests you, the more effectively they can place targeted ads. In general, people give more honest answers to surveys or questionnaires that say they will asses their personality. Even if researchers aren’t using online quizzes to gather information about you, they are trying to keep you on the page as long as possible so that you have to see sponsored ads.
Most online quizzes are all about engagement. Quizzes generate more comments than normal posts, which increases user engagement and means more people are likely to see the quiz. Often times people will fight through pop-up ads and annoying banner ads just to see their quiz results, when in any other situation they would have left the page creating annoying dialogues long ago. For the websites that are hosting the quizzes and selling the ad space, online quizzes are a large part of the profits they see. One of the largest producer of these online quizzes, BuzzFeed, benefits from the traffic driven to their website from these quizzes. When people share their results to Facebook, BuzzFeed is getting free publicity, because chances are at least one of your friends cares enough to check out the quiz you just took. This way, BuzzFeed has gained access to your friends and contacts without any form of payment or incentive to you.
Other than targeted advertisements and marketing information, online quizzes can also follow you for months or even years afterwards via email solicitation. For instance, ShareCare has a “Real Age” assessment quiz that will determine your “biological age” based on your family history and health habits. According to PC World, the data collected about things such as signs of depression or sexual difficulties are used by the site to send you email messages about the condition. In some cases, the messages received are from drug companies marketing medication for the conditions you claimed to have during the quiz.
Certain online quizzes will straight up ask for you to pay for the results. An example of this is CheckMyPersonality.com, which requires that you enter a credit card number in order to receive the results of the quiz. PC World says that the site continuously checks the validity of your credit card, posting fees and then later crediting them back to your card. This website also uses third party service providers to track down more information about you such as your household income or buying habits. Once this information has been gathered, it can be resold to marketing agencies. Some online quizzes are simply thinly veiled phishing schemes that attempt to extract personal information that you may have used to answer security questions on another website, such as first pets name, or what high school you attended.
For those of you that are still eager to find out which state you really belong in, feel free to take the online quiz, but avoid giving out personal identification information such as: name, email address, physical address or location, date of birth, and phone number. It is also important that you never give out your credit card information, and do not share or link quiz websites to your Facebook account, otherwise you could be granting marketers access to your friends and contacts, and offering them plenty of pictures to identify you personally. If you are worried about the reputation of an online quiz or website, try Zeltser.com, which includes links to tools that can help you determine if the site is a purveyor of malware or phishing for data.