Tech Tent: Facebook's quiz question

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What happens when you take part in a Facebook quiz? As the row grows over how much data the social media giant is sharing, Tech Tent explores what marketers can mine from our answers to their questions.

This whole controversy began with a personality quiz. It was designed by a psychology researcher, who collected the data from it for Cambridge Analytica four years ago. Facebook says it has since made it much harder for apps like this to scoop up data without consent.

But Derek Cohen, a marketing consultant based in Salt Lake City, tells us that the viral quizzes he runs for businesses can still prove a mine of useful data.

Image copyright Reuters

"You can get people to answer questions that aren't necessarily important to the quiz result that could be really helpful to the business," he explained.

For instance he would run a quiz asking "What's your mommy superpower?", and then add questions about how stressed people were or how much they had spent the last time they had shopped online.

"We could use that information to build audiences on Facebook to target with really targeted advertising."

He says that even if the respondents give out little personal information, he can gather more data about them through a piece of code - the Facebook Pixel - that can be added to most webpages, which records what people do there.

But, according to Mr Cohen, the real magic comes when he's gathered the kind of audience his advertiser wants to reach and hands it back to Facebook to be given, in return, what's called a lookalike audience.

"I would tell them: 'Give me the 1% of people on Facebook that are most like those 500 people.'

"They would give me a list of 2.2 million people that I can target with advertising."

He says there is no reason why a political campaign could not design a quiz - perhaps without overtly political questions - to gather an audience for targeted ads.

Now, when people sign up to quizzes like this they should be given quite clear information about what data they are handing over.

But what is less clear is whether that data will be shared with other companies.

Mr Cohen says that is quite likely to happen, and while Facebook may have policies that forbid the sharing of data they are not enforced.

What is more, he says there is even a button on the Facebook advertising interface that allows users to share their data.

"I could run a quiz on my account and then if some other company wanted that same information I could click share, send them that audience and then they could run ads with that same audience data."

We asked Facebook whether what Mr Cohen describes would still be possible after it acted to tighten its rules on data-sharing with developers this week. At the time of writing we have received no response.

Meanwhile, I've just taken a quiz I found via Facebook to find out which Disney animal I most resemble.

At no point was I given any information about the kind of data that might be collected as I answered the questions.

Oh, by the way - I came out as Bambi.

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