Do You Know Where Your Data Went?

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:

Playbuzz, data collection, personal data

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.

phishing, spear phishing, data theft, identity theftHand Over the Your Data

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.”

If you fill out a number of these surveys, you are providing quite a bit of marketable information about yourself to Playbuzz. But wait, you say, they have a privacy policy. Of course they do. Have you read it? No, of course not.

Hidden in the Fine Print

Fang Media’s privacy policy states that they will take “reasonable steps to protect your personal information in accordance with this Privacy Policy and applicable laws.” Okay, although I wonder what they define as “reasonable steps.” When you register with Playbuzz, take a survey, or perform a number of other actions, they collect 14 different kinds of personal data about you. The question is: What do they do with that information?

Again, the privacy policy states,

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)

data security, data protection, data breach, phishingIt’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:

Cleaned Data. We periodically remove from personal information data that can be used to identify individuals for example by summarizing, aggregating or removing certain data elements. The resulting cleaned data is no longer considered personal information and is not subject to this Privacy Policy. The cleaned data may be published by Fang Media LLC and provided to various third parties.”

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:

“This Privacy Policy applies solely to information collected by Fang Media LLC. However, our Site contains links to other web sites owned and operated by third parties. The third parties who operate these sites may treat the collection, use and disclosure of personal information differently than we do. This could be the case even for those web sites that carry Fang Media LLC’s or its affiliates’ trademarks or logos or which are framed by a Site. Please be aware that Fang Media LLC is not responsible for the data collection, use and disclosure practices of companies or organizations to which our Sites may provide links. We encourage our Users to be aware when they leave our Site and to read the privacy statements of each and every Web site that collects personally identifiable information.”

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.

Fox Mulder, the X-Files, Trust no oneSo 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.

5 thoughts on “Do You Know Where Your Data Went?

  1. Hello and may I say what a nice webiste about movies. More and more sites about movies are coming every day but it is really hard to find one that you really like and enjoy in reading and posting. Keep it on Admin looking forward to see new posts from you. And to finish with if you want to visit my site also about movies which is clean ads free about watching movies in HD feel free to stop by at I am sure that you will like it also :)))

  2. I want to share this on Facebook but my phone is not letting me use the copy and paste a link method. Can you put a share icon on? tyia

  3. Data vacuuming is a very scary thing, and much of the time it masquerades as something innocuous and innocent.

  4. You’re not paranoid. I’M paranoid! However, you don’t have to be paranoid to know they’re out to get you. That short, fat one over there, for instance.

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