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The Hidden Secrets of Online Quizzes 136

LegionKK points out a story on PC World, sending along this excerpt: "Ultimately, deciding whether you should take an online quiz comes down to a question of trust: Are you comfortable putting your information — personal or financial — into the owner's hands? Remember, even if you don't directly input data, it can be passed along. Such is the case with Facebook, where just opening an application automatically grants its developer access to your entire profile. And don't assume that the developer isn't going to use the information within. [...] The ads can follow you long after you click away, too. Just look at RealAge, a detailed quiz that assigns you a 'biological age' based on your family history and health habits. The site, a recent investigation revealed, takes your most sensitive answers — those about sexual difficulties, say, or signs of depression — and sells them to drug companies looking to market medications."
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The Hidden Secrets of Online Quizzes

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Real Age tells advertisers "would you like us send an email to someone who has lifestyle X, Y, or Z and who wants to receive emails about it" and then sends the promotional information on behalf of the advertiser.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      How nice of them to offer this service for free, completely without compensation for their efforts.

    • by oneirophrenos ( 1500619 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @09:47AM (#27950375)

      Personally I don't care if company A sells my information to company B to use in advertising, or if company A just uses my personal information to advertise on behalf of company B. It's still assholes using my information to try to make money. And flood my inbox doing it.

      Another good reason not to be on Facebook.

      • by Dishevel ( 1105119 ) * on Thursday May 14, 2009 @10:11AM (#27950635)
        They are only assholes to idiots. Do we really need someone to tell us that if I type a bunch of personal info into an idiot application. That comes from God knows where. I can be automatically assured that the information will be used for nothing other than producing a number to tell me how old I am acting?

        If I truly believe that shouldn't the resulting number be around 4?

        • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          > If I truly believe that shouldn't the resulting number be around 4?

          Based on your sentence structure, I would say that is about right.

        • Whoosh. Entering your data into Facebook profile is one thing. Having all those tons of innocent quizzes automatically getting access to your private information is a problem. Easy solution would be that Facebook adds option to make it optional to provide a specific detail and to still be able to use the app. In case the developer of the app blocks you access because you didn't provide your email address to his app, many people would realize what assholes the developers of those "apps" are (emphasizing quot

          • Facebook DOES give the options of what data to allow applications to see. Of course by default everything is turned on, but you can reduce it down to just your name, networks and friends.

            Applications don't have access to my profile picture, basic info, personal info, education history, work history, wall posts, photos, interests, etc.

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by ivucica ( 1001089 )

              In that case, it's a case of horrible UI design.

              Allowing APPLICATION-X access will let it pull your profile information, photos, your friends' info, and other content that it requires to work.

              So, where do I disable access to my profile for APPLICATION-X, but not for all other apps? How do I anonymously give it a test drive? How deeply do I have to dig to disallow all apps the access to my data? When I find it, again, how do I disallow access for APPLICATION-X?

              This is how it should be done:

              Allowing APPLICATI

      • by hobo sapiens ( 893427 ) <PARIS minus city> on Thursday May 14, 2009 @10:42AM (#27951015) Journal

        I created a Facebook profile just to see what all the hype was about. I was amazed at how many people sent me quizzes and so forth. It really is a pointless waste of time. Just for fun, I took one just to see...and when it asked for my phone number the mission was aborted.

        The people who sent me quizzes are smart people, too. I don't know what it is about finding your IQ, or which Star Wars character you are, or whatever. It obviously gives people some kind of fulfillment that makes it worth surrendering so much personal info. I don't get it.

        I guess facebook has to make money somehow, but the quizzes seem more slimy than just using the regular old ads we are all used to.

        • by vux984 ( 928602 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @12:05PM (#27952161)

          I don't know what it is about finding your IQ, or which Star Wars character you are, or whatever. It obviously gives people some kind of fulfillment that makes it worth surrendering so much personal info. I don't get it.

          Its because they don't view it as =SUBMITTING= personal info. They view it as a completely local phenomena... like taking a quiz in a magazine. But with the bonus that it tallies up the result for you and clears the form afterward.

          They never connect with the fact that the answers are recorded and stored and attached to their online profile... even if you tell them outright. It just doesn't penetrate.

          • by dgatwood ( 11270 )

            That's not quite right. The answers to FB quizzes aren't stored as part of your profile. AFAICT, FB developers don't have access to any storage as part of the FB platform. That's one of the things I dislike about the concept of writing FB apps: it's BYOS (bring your own storage).

            Thus, if the results are stored at all, they are stored by the application developer. It may be tied to your profile ID, but it is not part of your profile. Only the text that it spits out at the end is stored as part of your p

            • by vux984 ( 928602 )

              I realize I'm being pedantic here and that it makes little difference in practice, but....

              And after all that, you misunderstood what I meant.

              I was really referring to online quizzes in general, not just fb. And by 'your profile' I simply meant 'their profile on you'. I suppose I could have been clearer... but as you said "it makes little difference".

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by dgatwood ( 11270 )

          The IQ test is not a Facebook app, and people aren't really sending it to you. That's just an ad styled to look like it is coming from Facebook. Real Facebook apps have access to your phone number from your profile and wouldn't need to ask.

        • I don't think most people realize just how much information they're giving away. If you sat there and asked them explicitly, some of them might say no. At least, I'd like to think some of them would...

        • That quiz is something along the lines of "How smart are you?" When it asked me for my gender and my carrier, I continued thinking that there wasn't much they could get from that (not smart of me, huh?). When it asked for my phone number I relied on my wisdom to close it out.

          Facebook is for the most part a waste of time. I gave in to peer pressure and signed up after some of my closest friends said it was the best thing since sliced silicon wafers. It's not a replacement for Real Life [tm].

          Never give out

        • If you were asked to enter your phone number, you likely clicked on one of the "IQ" ads all over Facebook. This isn't a facebook application, but will often pretend to be one, showing "scores" of your friends, and saying something like "Your friend doesn't think you can beat his IQ. Click here to accept his challenge."

          When you go to any application in Facebook, Facebook will ask if you want that application to have access to your data, but if you have your privacy settings set up correctly, applications can

        • I took one just to see...and when it asked for my phone number the mission was aborted.

          My mother-in-law took that quiz. It signed her up for a "subscription" that was billed to her phone to the tune of $9.99 per month. Here's an article about it. []

      • by Dragonslicer ( 991472 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @11:00AM (#27951207)

        Another good reason not to be on Facebook.

        You are aware that these things aren't mandatory parts of Facebook, right? It's not all that difficult to just ignore them.

      • by loutr ( 626763 )

        Another good reason not to be on Facebook.

        Everytime you try to install an application on your profile, a confirmation dialog informs you that by doing so, the application will have access to your profile information, and asks that you confirm installation.

        If people are dumb enough to knowningly give away their personal info to know what brand of cereals represents their personality best, then good for them. As for me, I'll keep on using facebook to stay up-to-date on what happens in my hometown on the other side of the planet, and keep on rejectin

        • (Careful Mods, this is hyperbole, not sarcasm!)
          Driver problems aside, Vista is Great for one brand of security. Every time you want to do something, it asks "Cancel or Allow". It's a High School Principal's dream. Or a Bank Vault Manager.

          "Person X Requests to remove a document. Cancel or Allow?"

          Thing is, people like to believe they left their parents' control, so MAYBE they don't have to be given permission to do everything anymore. That's when the fatigue sets in, and then people get lazy and click "allo

    • by Bigbutt ( 65939 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @10:36AM (#27950941) Homepage Journal

      Since I use unique e-mails for most everything I do on the 'net, I know when this happens. I've used realage a couple of times and have not received any ads or e-mails to the realage e-mail address.

      The method works as I started getting lots of porn advertising to one of my unique addresses. I sent them an e-mail asking them where they got the address and asking them to stop. They didn't so I filter the address.

      Same with the occasional forum spam. If I forget to hide my e-mail address (done it once), I start getting spam to that address. I filter the address, changed the e-mail and flipped on "hide e-mail". No further spams from that address.


      • That just seems like a lot of work versus setting up a spam filter.

        • by Runaway1956 ( 1322357 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @11:55AM (#27952009) Homepage Journal

          You're right, JackieBrown, and for the most part, I'm lazy enough to rely on the spam filters.

          But, Bigbutt is a bit smarter than either of us. Using unique email addies enables him to IDENTIFY where the trash is coming from, and to do something about it. Contacting a forum admin, or confronting MySpace or Facebook, or whatever.

          You and me? Because we're lazy, we don't really KNOW where we slipped up, or who is using our personal info, so there's not much we can do - aside from using spam filters. We certainly can't go back and delete accounts and/or personal info in places that we kinda THOUGHT was confidential.

          • by Omestes ( 471991 )

            I use spamgourmet for pretty much the same purpose, that and it limits the amount of crap I have to get after a certain point. Though at some point I must have slipped since I get around 10 messages of spam a day now on my Gmail account, something that only happened in the last year.

  • Facebook (Score:4, Funny)

    by hachete ( 473378 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @09:37AM (#27950237) Homepage Journal

    Are these connected to the Facebook quizzes? a lot of these are infuriatingly ill-spelt.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 14, 2009 @09:37AM (#27950239)

    After taking enough of these quizes. . .

    . . .the spammers better know enough that I don't need their male enhancement .

  • Stupid article (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ledow ( 319597 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @09:38AM (#27950255) Homepage

    It's not hard. If you give information, ANY INFORMATION, to anyone for anything you have to check *what* they are going to do with it. This means reading their T&C's, following up all that brings up etc. Or, you can just NOT give out personal information that you don't want spread around.

    In the one instance, this means that when you sign up for a website with username, email or password requested, you should *always* check what's going to happen to that information (e.g. using your email for marketing). On the other hand, when you are logged into Facebook and scary warnings pop up about sharing your information... you should think twice before you agree and/or make sure that you NEVER use that account to post anything personal that you wouldn't want shared.

    This has never been any different. I've filled in paper surveys which distribute the same personal information to God-knows-who-but-probably-only-the-people-listed-in-the-T&C's.

    If you're that worried, don't fill in sexual quizzes on Facebook, or do it under a different identity. To be more honest, given the current state of that site, I'd be more worried that after filling in that kind of quiz, it would blast the results or even my answers to my listed friends and family even if it's just by posting them to my own page. That's a million times worse than having a drug company see a "TRUE" pop up in their advertising database against my Facebook ID. I can ignore the ads...

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by RR ( 64484 )

      It's not hard. If you give information, ANY INFORMATION, to anyone for anything you have to check *what* they are going to do with it. This means reading their T&C's, following up all that brings up etc. Or, you can just NOT give out personal information that you don't want spread around.

      The problem with this approach is that Facebook just grants access to ALL INFORMATION when you accept an app. Whether the program is one of these silly quizzes or actually does something useful, you have to grant them the same level of access.

      Doing the quiz using a fake profile is no good, either. For most of my circle of acquaintances, the quizzes and games are played for the social aspect. Otherwise, do you think you have a personal need to know your alchemical element or Disney princess or whatever? If y

      • Personally, I'm not so concerned about my personal information being stolen. It's not a "nothing to hide so hide nothing" thing for me, it's a "well, fuck. I don't trust my bank, I don't trust Centerlink, I don't trust the local video store. Thieves, fraudsters and spammers already have enough info on me to make me believe they're me" thing. I figure if my identity is ever likely to be stolen, it probably already has been. I'm waiting for the mortgage bills any day now, actually.

        I recently got sucked i

  • CowboyNeal (Score:5, Funny)

    by Toe, The ( 545098 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @09:40AM (#27950273)
    For some reason, online quizzes always seem to ask me about my predilections for some Cowboy guy...
  • by Joe the Lesser ( 533425 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @09:42AM (#27950301) Homepage Journal

    that it will be known that if I were an X-Man, I would be Storm.

  • I never understood.. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by DavidChristopher ( 633902 ) * on Thursday May 14, 2009 @09:43AM (#27950313)
    ... the need for people to take these quizzes - especially on Facebook - What's your favorite cheese? Which celebrity are you? Does he like you? How Sexy Is Your Name? What Does Your Eye Colour Mean?Some of them are rather clever (RealAge) and yet also evil (RealAge). Okay, maybe not 'kill puppies' evil, but all of these are datamining personal information from the poor suckers that need a webpage to tell them if they're happy or that brown eyes means that they're mysterious. I've been warning folks about this kind of thing for years, to no avail. - Not all apps are trojan horses, but why be a market research tool?

    It would be interesting to see an audit of companies like zynga ( [] - zynga is a purveyor of web based games like Vampires, Texas Holdem, Scramble or YoVille on social networking sites such as facebook and myspace) - I'm certain that part of their revenue comes from "market research support". This is the new spam, and it's tricking the gullible into being it's corporate marketing test group.
  • by interactive_civilian ( 205158 ) <mamoru AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday May 14, 2009 @09:46AM (#27950363) Homepage Journal

    If you use Facebook, then this option should be your best friend. Use it with impunity. I use this for every Application invitation I receive, and the amount has dropped dramatically as I cull the available option.

    Because, no, I don't want to join your vampire army, zombie army, mob, poker game, I don't care if you are interested in me or now, and I really don't care what kind of sandwich, beer, flower, country, actor, power tool, car, coffee, breakfast cereal, of language I am. And, no, I don't want every lame-ass developer to have access to any and all information I put up on Facebook.

    I just wish you could block people's newsfeed posts on a per application basis, rather than only per user.

    • by MikeDX ( 560598 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @09:53AM (#27950435) Journal
      You can block the application, just click "HIDE" then the drop down shows "hide (user)" and "hide (application". The second form the list is what you want. I use it all the time!
      • Thanks for that. They must have just implemented that very recently, because for awhile it wasn't there. Thanks for pointing it out. Still usefull since one quiz will seem to make the rounds with a lot of my friends.

        Someone mod parent +1 Informative. :)

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Er, why not just stop using Facebook, as I have? Facebook is a total mess. You've pretty much denounced all that Facebook has come to be about.
      • Er, why not just stop using Facebook, as I have? Facebook is a total mess. You've pretty much denounced all that Facebook has come to be about.

        Because I use Facebook for many other things: keeping up to date on friends and family around the world, keeping up to date on local events like concerts, good DJs, parties, other gatherings, etc., knowing automatically when and where my favorite bands will be touring, seeing photos of friends and family, keeping in touch with my former students, and generally wasting time in other ways. All in one convenient place, rather than spread out across email addresses, mailing lists, multiple websites, etc.

        There is a lot more to FaceBook than all of the annoying applications, and I don't not use any applications. There are a few that I use and like, however, a.) I wasn't invited to them, I found them when looking for a certain functionality, and therefore felt that their use outweighed any issues with accessing my info, and b.) I didn't invite any of my friends to them, because I know how annoying that is.

        Some of us actually do find FaceBook to be useful.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          Well said .... ...and the old bugbear of "Facebook will steal your personal info" is solved in a similar manner - if you don't tell facebook it cannot tell anyone else

          Why put your phone number on Facebook - everyone who needs it has it already, or can ask me for it, *all* my friends and family do not need to know it and neither does Facebook ....

          My Facebook profile has just enough for people to tell it's me, and no more.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Jane_Dozey ( 759010 )

        Some of us have friends who are not quite so technologically savvy and these friends use facebook as their main mode of communication. They organise events, send messages and use it to circulate news. I tried getting along without it but it's just not practical when everyone else you know uses it for so many things.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Nesman64 ( 1093657 )
        Blocking the applications one at a time is akin to blocking spam, one "From:" at a time.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Alan Shutko ( 5101 )

      For a while now, you can block applications on your news feed, by going to the hide menu next to the post and selecting "Hide [This Stupid App]." You can't hide it from the iPhone App, or from the list on _their_ profile page, but it's better than nothing.

      Unfortunately, almost every quiz shows up as a new app.

    • by hazem ( 472289 )

      I think you want to check out Facebook Purity: []

      It's a greasemonkey script that makes Facebook almost bearable to use.

      Facebook's been great for finding old friends, but I got so tired of all the insipid quizes and requests.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by mx119 ( 1374607 )

      I really don't care what kind of sandwich, beer, flower, country, actor, power tool, car, coffee, breakfast cereal, of language I am.

      I was following this rule, then it asked what kind of Jedi I was. I could not resist, so I assume one of the application sith's was using a mind trick on me.

    • Ha, I tried that. Unfortunately for me, I have a ton of international friends, so I'm getting constantly bombarded with quizzes in Italian, Tagalog, and Hindi, in addition to all the English ones. I could block the people who take quizzes all the time, but just the other day one of them had a very interesting tidbit about a local foreigner who was quarantined for exposure to H1N1.
  • No kidding (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 14, 2009 @09:52AM (#27950427)

    I joined Facebook last month and was surprised to see how much control was given to the 'apps' by default.

    One of the first notices I got was something like "Your friends X and Y have taken this IQ Test - can you beat their score?" Wanting to be a good sport I started the quiz - only to notice plenty of fine print granting the program access to my personal information/friends list, etc.

    Needless to say, there was no longer any need to take the quiz, as the intelligence of my friends is now suspect.

    • "Your friends X and Y have taken this IQ Test - can you beat their score?"

      Actually, it's not necessarily the case that friends X and Y have taken the quiz.

      Either that, or one of my friends really did try to send me a James Blunt song. The bastard !

      • Actually, it's not necessarily the case that friends X and Y have taken the quiz

        When I first joined FB, it claimed that 2 of my friends had taken that quiz. Problem is, at the time I didn't yet HAVE any FB friends!

        • Advertisers lie? Oh no! Stop the press!! :)

        • I also see ads for the IQ quiz that say "X of your friends think you're an idiot", but that one seems pretty believable to me.

          I think I took the IQ quiz once, worked all the way through and bailed when it wanted a phone number. Most of the quizzes, despite all hyperbole to the contrary, are IMO completely benign. I am willing to share my personal interests and beliefs... that's why I'm on FB: to communicate these kinds of things with people. I don't mind targeted ads because if any ads are targeted prop

    • by Joe the Lesser ( 533425 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @11:26AM (#27951595) Homepage Journal

      Your friends have not taken the IQ quiz. What they have done is just taken your friends list and made up scores for them.

      I know this because I saw the ad on my wife's page and it said I got a score on a test I had never taken.

    • Re:No kidding (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Fractal Dice ( 696349 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @11:44AM (#27951819) Journal

      I joined Facebook last month and was surprised to see how much control was given to the 'apps' by default.

      The question you need to ask when signing up for a site is "what's their business model?" Facebook obviously isn't getting its money from its users, so that means the users have to be the product being sold.

  • by rodney dill ( 631059 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @10:00AM (#27950505) Journal
    Which Feminine Hygiene Product Are You? quiz....
  • by rodney dill ( 631059 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @10:03AM (#27950533) Journal
    The google ad at the top is RealAge Quiz when I looked at the article.
  • by CopaceticOpus ( 965603 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @10:09AM (#27950597)

    Many online quizzes trick people by not requiring any personal information at the start. Only after a person has spent half an hour considering their responses does the site require an email address or even payment to see the results. Since a person is reluctant to throw away the time they've invested, they are more likely to give in, although they never would have agreed to the terms at the start.

    I had this happen to me last year, when trying to take a Myers-Briggs style personality test to see if my scores had changed in the last decade. They gave me only the most basic results, and expected payment for the full results. Now I will never take an online quiz again unless they guarantee to give full results without requiring payment, personal details, "completing one of these offers", etc.

  • by g_adams27 ( 581237 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @10:14AM (#27950651)
    The link in the story goes to page two of the article. Here's Page 1 [] instead.
  • To sit back and reject all the quiz requests that I've been collecting since signing up. I'd always told my friends that I'd do them later. :) Poor things, waiting so eagerly to find out which English word I represent ("Banana").
  • by fermion ( 181285 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @10:23AM (#27950763) Homepage Journal
    In one sense, this is part of the costs of using these sites. For facebook, which is largely used by younger people, articles such as this has some value as younger people are not as sophisticated when dealing with scams such as this and need to be educated. This and the fact that facebook does pose a danger as user put many personal details, and these details can be connected with the real user.

    OTOH real age is directed at adults. The only link is an email address, which users can get from yahoo and anonymize if they wish. The question, to me, is then whether real age serves a legitimate entertainment purpose for which users pay through their use by looking at ads and generating data, and if such data is aggregate. It is like people who put movies and pictures on free web sites and then complain that they cannot be deleted.

    Most of us have little probem with shopping at stores where we use a card for a discount in exchange for our consent to collect and sell our personal buying habits(inordinate amount of crisco?). It seems to me that facebook goes beyond this, but many other sites do not.

  • Remarkably, all those miraculous Tibetan tea ads aiming to cleanse my toxins or make my sex drive soar never quite make it out of the throw-away email account I used when responding to Real Age. As for my Facebook account -- whoever guesses the ONE item about me therein contained that is NOT false wins, well... an ampule of essence of a rare African forest flower guaranteed to enliven your ear lobes.
  • by matt_king ( 19018 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @11:10AM (#27951357)

    There is *no* technical reason why adding a facebook widget requires access to your personal profile. Facebook devs could have easily set it up so this doesn't occur. It is the most shady part about facebook, and I am surprised there isn't more of an uproar about it.

    • by noundi ( 1044080 )
      What do you expect? Look at its user base. Bottom line is there are no internet quizzes, there are only internet surveys. Keep this in mind and you have one less thing to worry about.
  • Oh Noes! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by bennomatic ( 691188 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @12:22PM (#27952375) Homepage
    On the FB "Five People I'd Like to Punch in the Face" quiz, I listed GWB, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Rice. If I get waterboarded because of that, my only regret will be that it didn't allow six so I could put in Rove.
  • by JoelisHere ( 992325 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @12:36PM (#27952571)
    This story brought to you by, Real Age. I find it funny that the Google ad served up for this story was no other than a Real Age ad.
  • Facebook quizzes (Score:3, Informative)

    by speedtux ( 1307149 ) on Thursday May 14, 2009 @12:45PM (#27952713)

    Facebook quizzes are indeed highly deceptive and a serious invasion of privacy; the best thing is to kill them with a Greasemonkey script (or not use Facebook at all).

  • You mean you're expected to give ACCURATE personal information to those quizzes?!? I always put down that I'm a 16-year old blond female with an email address of I hope Bill enjoys feminine hygiene product spam!
  • The links to the articles do not go to the first page in each article. The first two links both link to page 2.

    Please fix.

"I prefer the blunted cudgels of the followers of the Serpent God." -- Sean Doran the Younger