Whether it’s learning which character from The Office you are, finding out how well you know your friends, or determining your exact percentage of diva, Facebook quizzes can be a fun way to kill time and now that COVID-19 has given most of us more free time than ever, it seems like every other post in our feeds is some sort of quiz. But beware! There’s a very good chance the one you just took that revealed the species of salmon you most resemble was a whole lot more malevolent than it seemed.
In this information age, data mining is happening constantly and we don’t even realize it. You’ve seen it when you Googled an item one day and then saw an ad for the same item in your Facebook feed the next day. That wasn’t a coincidence. Retailers pay big money for marketing analytics and it’s scary how much information they have. Take this story from the New York Times in 2012 for example. It explains how statisticians are collecting data on every shopper that uses a credit card or signs up for a loyalty card. His article goes deeper into how they break down the analytics than I can here but it also tells the story of how Target knew that a teenager was pregnant before her father did, based on her shopping habits.
Large retailers use data mining for targeted marketing. Bad guys use what is called social engineering to coax us into giving up very sensitive information without even realizing we’re being scammed. What seems like a harmless time-waster can actually mine enough information to ruin your life. That sounds hyperbolic but if a thief has the answer to one of your security questions, he doesn’t necessarily need your password to gain access to an account.
Think about the last time you created an account for a website or app. Remember the list of security questions you chose from? Questions like: “What was the name of your first pet?” or “What is your mother’s maiden name?” or “What’s the name of the street you grew up on?” Now think about some of the quizzes you’ve seen recently. Notice any similarities?
In this blog post, I wrote about some ways to keep your information and accounts secure online but these quizzes are different because we are essentially giving our information up willingly. On purpose even, and that needs to stop. No more Facebook quizzes for us.
So you may never find out which brand of snow tire you’re most like, but you’ll keep your information safe for another day.