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Amy Iverson: The dangers of Facebook personality quizzes

Facebook, Messenger and Instagram apps are are displayed on an iPhone on Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in New York. Facebook says it is aware of outages on its platforms including Facebook, Messenger and Instagram and is working to resolve the issue. (AP Pho
Facebook, Messenger and Instagram apps are are displayed on an iPhone on Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in New York.
Jenny Kane

Be honest, did you take the Facebook quiz to find out which “Game of Thrones” character you are? Or maybe you couldn’t resist finding out what your eye color says about you.

Big mistake.

Many of these quizzes were gathering your personal information and making it public. And Facebook believes others were actually hackers grabbing data about your friends.

Not every quiz on Facebook has nefarious purposes, but users need to be careful. Facebook says it is trying to help out, and updated its policies a couple of months ago. The company says “apps with minimal utility, such as personality quizzes, may not be permitted on the platform.” Eddie O’Neil, director of product management at Facebook, wrote in a blog post that “apps may not ask for data that doesn’t enrich the in-app, user experience.”

A Facebook spokesperson told CNN that quiz apps aren’t banned completely but the company will use heightened scrutiny in deciding what’s allowed.

Apps on Facebook have given us plenty of reason to be skeptical of the information we share. Remember the Cambridge Analytica scandal from last year? The political research firm accessed information from millions of unsuspecting Facebook users. That all started with a personality quiz. Facebook users who downloaded the app gave it permission to collect data on them, as well as from all their friends.

Last year, a security researcher wrote on the website Medium about one quiz app on Facebook called “NameTests" that had some bad coding. The flaw allowed anyone to see all the personal information of anyone who used the app, even after they deleted it. So anyone (including third parties) could see names, birthdates, country and gender. Facebook worked with the app developer to fix the problem and paid $4,000 to the security researcher who found it, which he donated to charity.

Some of these personality quizzes ask questions with answers that are often used as security questions on websites. The quiz could ask the name of your favorite movie, for example, or the name of your best friend from elementary school. Questions like these should be red flags, since you would basically be giving cybercriminals the keys to the kingdom.

The Better Business Bureau’s chief security officer, Bill Fanelli, said his organization always knew social media quizzes were a trick, because they are free. “If there is no charge, then the value is the data they can collect,” he said. “We also knew that it was for a use we probably would not like, because they went to such great lengths to hide their purpose.”

There are a few precautions to take to help keep your private information safe. For one, never give out your full name, address, birthdate or other data to a person or business you don’t know and trust. Don’t send of accept friend requests from people you don’t know, and be very cautious when considering clicking on a link from a person or business you don’t recognize. Additionally, look into the permissions you’re giving apps and delete any apps you aren’t currently using.

Maybe you can survive without knowing which Disney princess you are.