What kind of pizza are you? What does the kind of pet you have say about your personality? Which U.S. city is your perfect fit? Quizzes like these are all over Facebook and other social networks. For kids, online personality tests are as compelling as the Hogwarts Sorting Hat: They define you at the precise moment when the most important thing is knowing who you are. And, whether you're a Slytherin or just shy, personality quizzes sort us into social groups where we feel safe knowing that there are others just like us. But, as the Cambridge Analytica acquisition of millions of Facebook users' data reveals, online personality quizzes can be used as a tool of the dark arts of politics. While it's far from being a comprehensive solution, knowing how to avoid the risks of these super popular tests can help you and your kids tighten up your online privacy.
Imagine if all the data used by the Sorting Hat — every photo you loved, every opinion you agreed with, every famous person's quote you didn't like — could be bought, sold, and even stolen. If someone got their hands on that information, they'd know a lot about you. And they'd know a lot about your friends, too. Online personality quizzes work their magic in much the same way. If you've ever downloaded a personality quiz through Facebook, you may be one of the thousands of people who unwittingly supplied information about yourself and your friends for use in highly targeted psychological profiles exploited in the 2016 presidential campaign.
And it's not only the quiz information these third-party apps collect. They plug into a social media host and collect information that's located in your Facebook profile, including your political and religious views. The friends you're connected with on social media may be sharing your information when they take quizzes, too, supplying the quiz creators with more profiles and more data points to sort into groups. The groups are valuable to anyone who wants to target ads to specific categories of people whose likes and dislikes match up. Whether it's a brand of shoes or campaign messages, a receptive audience can make it go viral.
Frankly, most of us don't spend much time thinking about online privacy until a breach occurs. Sure, we tell our kids not to tell online strangers where they live, but beyond basic safety precautions, we're pretty hands off. Targeted ads? Who cares. Endless email alerts? Whatever. But now we know one of the key methods bad actors use to get us to give them what they want: personality quizzes. They may be a small thing to give up, but they could also be the tip of the iceberg. And it's always a good idea to be mindful of new online marketing methods and refresh your privacy settings. Here are five ways to make your family's use of social media a little safer.
Be careful with quizzes. To be super safe, just say no to online personality tests or any seemingly innocent game that asks questions. All those clicks and taps give the company information on you. While not all online tests misuse your data, you usually have to go into the quiz's terms of service to find out which information they collect and how they use it.
Take a look at the information you're sharing. When you click on a quiz or any other plug-in or applet in your feed, you should see which information it's requesting from your profile, including who your friends are. Some apps let you edit this information on the spot. But even if you opt out of sharing certain information, you may still be giving up more than you intend.
Use privacy settings and review them frequently. All social media offers privacy settings — some more than others. The companies usually keep them off by default, so you have to go in and enable the ones you want. This is a good time to sit down with your kids and go over their privacy settings. Facebook, for example, offers many levels of privacy for each piece of information it stores. The safest setting to use is "Only Me," which means you're the only one who can view it and Facebook is not allowed to share it. Also, check your app settings on Facebook to see what you've agreed to share with each app.
Use two-factor authentication. Most social media offers two-factor authentication, which allows you to authorize only certain devices to access an account. It increases your security because it prevents people from logging into your account even if they have your password.
Do a little housekeeping by deleting old accounts and updating your passwords. Hackers can get to you by going through your defunct social media profiles. To find old accounts, Google your name; you might be surprised at what you find. And if you can find it, anyone else can, too. Also, update your passwords. Use these tricks to create new passwords.
And if these privacy breaches inspire you to take action, check out Common Sense Kids Action's campaign to support smarter protections for smart devices.