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Quiz: What Do Facebook Quizzes Know About You?

Chris Conley,
Policy Attorney,
ACLU of Northern California Technology and Civil Liberties Project
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June 11, 2009

(Originally posted on the ACLU of Northern California's Bytes & Pieces blog.)

Ever whiled away five minutes on a Facebook quiz, finding out what cartoon character is your look-alike or how your IQ stacks up? These quizzes may seem like a perfectly harmless way to spend a few spare minutes. But have you stopped to think about what these quizzes are learning about you and how that info could be used? Take our quiz and learn more!

QUESTION 1: When you take a Facebook quiz, the quiz:

A. Is just for fun and doesn’t collect any info about you.
B. Collects the info in your answers, but nothing else.
C. Collects the info in your answers, has access to your profile, and may even be able to access your friends’ profiles.


This isn’t a back-of-the-magazine quiz — Facebook quizzes can collect and store the answers you give. But that’s not all: these quizzes can collect the information in your profile — and even information from your friends’ profiles — in addition to any answers you give.

QUESTION 2: OK, that doesn’t sound good, but my privacy settings will protect my information, right? By default, Facebook’s privacy settings:

A. Prevent any application from seeing anything on my profile unless I install and use that application.
B. Prevent applications from seeing anything on my profile if I have specific privacy settings for specific details on my profile.
C. Allow applications — including those used by my friends — to access to my profile.


Facebook, no stranger to controversy over its policies regarding user data, does not have policies in place that reassure users that their information is automatically kept private. By default, Facebook’s privacy settings let applications access information on your profile even if you have restricted access to a specific network or friend group (as application privacy settings are separate from profile privacy settings). In addition, Facebook's default settings allow applications run by your friends to pull information from your profile. Surprised? Check out your settings and see for yourself!

QUESTION 3: OK, so quizzes can collect a lot of info — but what can they do with it? The information that quizzes collect:

A. Cannot be retained or used at all
B. Can only be used in connection with Facebook.
C. Could be used, sold, or released in any way the developer chooses.

ANSWER: B — sort of.

Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities requires that application developers limit their use of any user data that they collect. That’s nice - in theory. But in practice, it only works if quiz developers comply with this limit. If they don’t, your information could easily be abused, sold, or released without your knowledge or consent. How do you know if you can trust these developers?

QUESTION 4: No worries; Facebook screens developers carefully, right? To be a Facebook developer, a person or company must:

A. Pass a thorough screening by Facebook and provide Facebook with a real name, address, and telephone number.
B. Provide Facebook with a real name, address, and telephone number.
C. Have nothing more than a Facebook account possibly tied to an anonymous email address.


That’s right: these developers — who are able to collect all sorts of information about you and your friends — don’t have to reveal their information to you (or to Facebook) at all. That means it can be hard for Facebook to enforce these developer data use limits - or even to know if they've been violated in the first place.

QUESTION 5: All right, I’ve heard enough — I want to do something about it! The best way for me to take action is to:

A. Use Facebook’s privacy settings to limit the information that my friends’ quizzes and applications can see on your profile.
B. Demand that Facebook strengthen its privacy protections so that users can effectively retain control over their own information.
C. Join the dotRights campaign on Facebook to learn more about how I can take control of my online info and Demand My dotRights!


Taking control of your own privacy by using the privacy settings that Facebook offers is a good start — but it’s time to start demanding more of the companies who hold our personal information. Tell Facebook that you want better privacy protection for your personal information. Sign up for our email list and join our dotRights campaign on Facebook to learn more about what you can do to control your privacy online. And stick around as we expand our campaign to reclaim control of our personal information and Demand Our dotRights!

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