You see online quizzes and surveys all over the Internet, some are scams but others are by legitimate companies offering the potential to win great prizes, or asking for your help in gaining research insights. Your temptation to take a quiz or survey may be motivated by the prize, a desire to help shape research, or it may be to eliminate boredom, procrastinate, or satisfy your own curiosity.
Before you take that quiz, it’s important to understand that someone, some company, or some organization spent time creating that survey - what is their motivation?
Quizzes and surveys are designed for one purpose; to collect information. Your information.
Depending on the hosting site, and the questions asked, they may or may not know exactly who you are, but at a bare minimum they are collecting information about your preferences. Keep in mind that even when the survey or quiz itself doesn’t ask for your personal information they may still be collecting it.
Even the most innocuous surveys learn far more than you might imagine. Information they collect can 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 or purchased.
If your IP address is associated with any other information, they may know your name, your address, and anything you have shared or others have shared about you - including information culled from government records like property records, voter records, criminal records, school records, and so on. If the survey or quiz is within a site you have registered to use, your information may have been passed to them by the partner site.
People are particularly quick to give away their information if the survey or quiz dangles a prize, because it makes sense that you have to provide accurate information in case you win - this means you provide your email alias, name, address and phone number, and possibly other identifiable information.
Think about it; if 50k people provide all this information in the hopes of receiving a prize worth a couple hundred dollars the sponsor knows the information collected will be accurate and they have ’purchased’ that data for a fraction of a penny per person.
Take a closer look at quizzes and surveys to understand how this works using the example shown here. This longevity quiz looks like a fun, silly test to see how long you will live. Yet it targets seniors and asks very invasive questions about one of the most sensitive types of information - respondent’s health data– and it goes on to collect information about the health of their family members as well.
What looks like a harmless pastime is really an insidious method of collecting information that you would never provide under other circumstances.
In this case, though the quiz is hosted on a senior’s social networking site, it quickly becomes apparent that the company behind the quiz is CVS. In the first screen you see a CVS ad. It doesn’t look blank, but as soon as the respondent starts answering the very detailed questions the ad changes.
What you realize is that all of the answers are being transmitted to CVS in real-time so they can populate a shopping list of items you will ’need’ in order to live longer.
While this alone can be creepy, it is just the first level of use of respondent’s data. Because there are no terms and conditions for use, nothing stops the company from using this same data in other ways.
What happens if all this medical history is shared or sold to an insurance company? Will the fact that you reportedly eat process meat 5 times a week, struggle with stress, and have a family history of mental illness affect your insurance claims or your ability to get insurance? The answer is quite likely yes.
Unfortunately, the respondent isn’t the only one at risk. If this information is sold, then every member of the respondent’s family may face additional difficulties when seeking insurance, loans and other services.
If the information is sold to less ethical - or flat out criminal – entities, the information exposure can lead to identity theft, medical identity theft and an increase in spam and scams for both the respondent and their family members. What happens if this information is purchased by your employer or a potential employer?
The ramifications associated with sharing information – particularly this sensitive of information - can be far reaching. Before you decide to enter a sweepstakes, take a quiz or survey, or respond to the research questions, think through the possible ramifications. If you aren’t 100% sure of who is behind the questions, and know how your information will be used (and guaranteed that it will NOT be used in any other way in the future) don’t respond. If you cannot trust that your information will be respected or you haven’t been given a guaranteed right to have your information removed at any time, don’t respond.
If you don’t share it, you won’t risk the information later causing damage to you or others you care about.