Everyone loves a great BuzzFeed quiz. Whether you’re finding out which Disney princess you are, or delving into a more serious topics like if you should have been an astronaut or librarian (because BuzzFeed is a totally reliable way to plan out the rest of your life), BuzzFeed quizzes are an addictive and fun way to waste some time in the afternoon.
A question that, rather surprisingly, hasn’t come up until now is how much information BuzzFeed actually knows about you, and which of that data they choose to store and then resell to third-party advertisers.
According to British web specialist Dan Barker, the answer may actually surprise you because BuzzFeed quizzes can lull you into giving up some deceptively personal information.
By looking through the default BuzzFeed browsing data sent to Google Analytics, Barker found that the information being sent included whether users have connected their Facebook profiles to BuzzFeed, how often they’ve shared BuzzFeed stories to social media or via email, their gender, age (if those have been publicly disclosed), and location – all in all around 25 more pieces of unique information about you. All of that data was then assigned to a “username” which was consistent across multiple browsers on the same PC.
Barker then went through some of BuzzFeed’s quizzes and found that each answer he submitted was tracked and sent through along with all of that other data which could potentially be used to identify you.
If you’re thinking that your answers to a BuzzFeed quiz couldn’t possibly reveal a host of personal information about you, Barker pinpoints a quiz titled “How Privileged are You?” which asked the user to tick which of the following (rather personal) statements apply:
- I am white.
- I am Heterosexual.
- I feel comfortable with the gender I was born as.
- I have never tried to change my gender.
- I have never been sexually harassed or assaulted.
- I have never been raped.
- I have never taken any medication for my mental health.
The quiz was taken by over 2 million people when Barker wrote his blog post.
While wandering through the comments to Dan’s post, we found the director of growth and data at BuzzFeed, Dao Nguyen, had commented on the story. Her comment is below and it does make us feel a little better about the fact that 99% of users are never even logged into BuzzFeed making most of the data collected 100% anonymous.
I run Growth and Data at BuzzFeed. I noticed that you added this caveat: “I’m going to caveat that I’m not 100% sure they’re recording that it is ‘me’ browsing the site (ie. that they’re able to link the data they’re recording in Google Analytics (GA) about my activity on the site back to my email address and other personally identifiable information (PII)). ”
This caveat is important because we do not in fact record that it is “you” browsing the site. The string sent to GA is not your username but an anonymised string that is not linked in any way to your account, email address or other personally identifiable information. Also, about 99% our readers are not even logged in.
We are only interested in data in the aggregate form. Who a specific user is and what he or she is doing on the site is actually a useless piece of information for us. We know how many people got Paris or prefer espresso in the Which city would you live in? quiz, but we don’t know who they are or any of their PII.”[Source – Dan Barker’s blog]