I may be a naturally suspicious person. I’m on Facebook a lot, both to keep in touch with friends and family and to promote posts on this blog. So I notice when trends start popping up—and that makes me wonder what’s behind them. This may also be a social media variant of reading with a hermeneutic of suspicion. I wrote about this mindset once before when wondering what was behind Facebook’s Frequent Five. Now a new trend has arisen on @Facebook—and aroused my suspicions at the same time.
It’s the “which one are you” survey and I have seen it pop up in a variety of forms. You probably have, too, such as this one as seen on Facebook:
I got curious and did some research. These “surveys” are posted by Playbuzz, which is a Buzzfeed knockoff run by Tom Pachys, Yaron Buznach, and Shaul Ohlmert, son of former Israeli premier Ehud Olmert. It’s owned by Fang Media LLC. Playbuzz describes itself as, “your own source of the coolest and the best games for PC, Facebook, Android, iPhone & iPad,Xbox, PS3, Flash, Unity3D and HTML5.” Its website says, “PlayBuzz enables you to play and create the hottest playful content on the web. Make your own quizzes, lists and polls, embed them on your site or just share …” Sounds like innocent fun: which Greek god are you? which Game of Thrones character are you? etc. You take the survey and then post the results on Facebook. Easy peasy.
But to get the answers, you have to fill out the survey, which provides Playbuzz—or the survey’s creator—with information about you. And that’s where the suspicious part of me wakes up. I spent many years marketing computer, network and data security products and I know that personal information is valuable. So when you fill out one of these surveys, how do you know where your data went?
In a Forbes article, “The Black-Market price of Your Personal Info,” Kashmir Hill and Zack O’Malley Greenburg quote an RSA study on the underground market for personal data. It says: “On the low end, they found CVV2 data sets–which include a 16-digit credit card number, the card’s special security code, billing address, expiration date and name–selling for as little as $1.50. On the high end, they discovered bank account logins selling for as much as $1,000.”
Hidden in the Fine Print
“This information may be used to create a profile that we keep on individual Users that details their preferences, personal information and behavior. Consequently, collected information is tied to the User’s personally identifiable information and may be used to provide offers and improve the content of the Site for the User. This profile may also be used to tailor a User’s visit to our Web Site, and to direct pertinent marketing promotions to them.”(My emphasis)
It’s that last sentence that concerns me because it means they are selling your personal information to the marketing and sales departments of companies that, best case, want to sell you something. Take a Playbuzz survey and within days you are likely to find yourself the recipient of unsolicited and unwanted promotions, offers, bargains, discounts, or other communications that fit under the general heading of spam.
Worst case: If Playbuzz’s “reasonable steps” don’t keep up with the phishing attempts of disreputable hackers, you’re likely to find your identity compromised and your finances under attack. Fun? Not so much.
But Wait, There’s More
Playbuzz does give you the opportunity to opt out but, hey, who does that? Now, here’s the clause that really scares me:
So once they have cleaned up and aggregated your data, it’s not yours anymore and they can do whatever they want with it.
Jeremy Massler on PandoDaily thinks it’s an advantage for survey creators to embed their surveys on third-party websites. Un-huh. And here’s the third-party clause:
Like anyone is going to do that.
A Swarm of Mosquitoes
There are other similar sites, like BuzzFeed and BiteCharge, all circling your personal—and marketable—information like mosquitoes over an outdoor concert. The secret of their success is that they make it seem like innocent fun so that you hand over your information without even thinking about it. They don’t ask you to do anything: it’s all voluntary.
So if you really, really need to know where you’re your personal information is going, you have a lot of research and reading to do. The best way to practice safe social media is to stay away from sites like Playbuzz and Buzzfeed. They are basically data traps designed to get you to voluntarily provide them with personal information that they can sell at a profit.
So call me paranoid, call me Fox Mulder, but I think the best defense is to just say no. Don’t play their games, take their surveys, or fill out their lists. Protect your personal data and let the mosquitoes go feed on somebody else.