Online Quizzes and Surveys, and the Real Risks These Represent

Quizzes and surveys are designed for one purpose; to collect information. The collection of this information may be for noble purposes where your identity and information are kept entirely anonymous, or by legitimate companies that with the intent of conducting market research, or to leverage your information for monetary gain. The tools may be used to collect information for entirely exploitive or criminal purposes, and researchers are seeing a spike in this type of exploit.

Even the most innocuous surveys learn far more than you might imagine. Information they collect may include the type of computer and software you use, your location (they collect this from your IP Address, so it actually doesn’t fool any service to claim you’re in another zip code), what website you were on prior to coming to the quiz/survey/research site as well as where you go after you leave the site. The information may be used independently, or it may be added to an accumulation of information about you that the creators have collected.

Consider this “longevity quiz” offered to seniors. It seems rather whimsical as you start off, but the level of detail requested actually gives the company behind the quiz (in this case it’s CVS) a tremendous amount of very sensitive personal medical information about the respondent and their family. Nowhere do you see terms and conditions for how this information may be used. No information is provided to let you contact the company and request information removed.  Once you share it, they own it.

Look at this example once again. The ad on the left-hand side is constantly updated based on your responses. Think about that. In real time CVS uses the information you send to pitch their products to you. And since you gave the information without bothering to consider or limit how they could use the information, it may well be sold, resold, swapped, traded or given to any other company at any time.

Consider whether you want your whole medical history in the hands of an insurance company when you’re seeking health coverage. Think through how your answers might impact your children’s ability to get health coverage.  What if this information is purchased by your employer? Someone in your social sphere? If the ramifications of sharing information – particularly this sensitive of information – isn’t giving you heartburn right about now, spend a little more time pondering.

My advice? Err on the side of caution and skip over surveys, quizzes and research questions entirely unless you:

  • Are 100% sure of who is behind the questions
  • Know how your information will be used – and have a guarantee that it will NOT be used in any other way in the future
  • Trust that your information will be respected (not shared without your permission)
  • Receive assurances that your information will be protected by strong security measures
  • AND you’ve been given a guaranteed right to have your information removed at any time.

Learn more about the risks in answering quizzes and surveys in my blogs: Protecting Kids and Use of SocNets by Older Users Skyrockets; Are You Oversharing?



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