Apr 15, 2019

Who’s watching when you’re online? Marketers, most likely. But maybe someone more nefarious. (Metro Creative)

“Which ‘Game of Thrones’ character are you?”

“What dog breed matches you best?”

These type of quizzes pop up on our social media feeds every day, and many of us play along, thinking it’s just fun. We often share the results on our timelines and suggest others take part.

Some of these quizzes are just for fun. But some have a hidden goal: accessing your data.

CNN recently reported about a pair of Ukrainian hackers who used this type of survey (Sample titles: “Do you have royal blood?” “What does your eye color say about you?”) to gain access to private Facebook user data and target users with unauthorized advertisements.

Quiz takers were asked to install malicious browser extensions, which allowed the hackers to pose as the Facebook users online.

It’s similar to the Cambridge Analytica scandal during the 2016 election, when the data company collected info on millions of American Facebook users without their knowledge, via an online quiz app.

Expect targeted ads

Whether you take part in these quizzes is a personal choice. But if you’re concerned about privacy, it’s best to be wary. You never know who is behind them, and what their intentions are.

Clicking on any unfamiliar links and deciding to view clickbait sites is a gamble. You should know just from headlines what to avoid by this point. When you see hyperbolic language (“Number 25 will shock you!”), provocative pictures (gross-looking things you can’t identify, or sexy girls unrelated to the topic) and vague sensationalism or celebrity gossip (“Look at them now!”), clicking to learn more is probably a bad idea.

The case of the Ukrainian hackers installing malicious extensions crosses a line, and these criminal acts should be prosecuted. But I’m a firm believer that you should assume your data will be used for marketing purposes if you sign up for service.

In the recent Facebook hearings, may people expressed concern over how the company used data. In reality, it’s naïve to think joining a social network and providing information about yourself won’t lead to targeted marketing.

Think of how many times you’ve been online searching a topic, and suddenly you see ads on that topic. It’s how the system works.

For those concerned about what Facebook is doing with your data, my advice is to not sign up at all, or provide the least information about yourself as possible.

Information to leave out

Facebook asks for lots of information. But you don’t have to give it all to them.

• Phone number: This is not required. If you do provide it, always hide it in your profile.

• Address: Don’t include it. It’s an invitation to thieves.

• Birthday: This is required to sign up for age verification, but make sure to go into account settings so it’s visible only to yourself. Birthdays are a key piece of information criminals look for to steal identities.

• Financial information: Don’t give Facebook your credit card info, and don’t discuss financial information on your timeline.

Even information you share with friends can get you into trouble.

• Pictures: Don’t post vacation pictures until you return home. That tells thieves you’re not around.

• Sharing chains: If a friend invites you to share your first pet’s name, where you grew up and your first car to determine your Movie Star Name, you’re providing answers to common website verification questions — it’s best to stay away.

Identity thieves can do more damage when they know more about you. So give them less to work with. When on Facebook, imagine the whole world seeing it before you post.

The more you put out there, the more likely it will be used for marketing — or worse.

Kelly Siegel is CEO of National Technology Management in Bingham Farms. NTM can be reached at 248-658-0829; or email Siegel at ksiegel@trustntm.com.