I can’t be the only one whose Facebook feed has been flooded with quiz results. Which Star Wars character are you? Which sandwich? Which country? Which author is your soul mate? Which random piece of stuff best represents you?
I won’t pretend to be above the fray – I couldn’t resist finding out what Muppet I was (Miss Piggy, for the record) – but it seems as though the floodgates have been opened of late. Every day I learn more and more about the alter egos of friends and acquaintances. Only, the thing is, I’m not the only one learning these things. Nor is the audience restricted to those the individual user chooses to share the results with.
Back in 2012, the WSJ analyzed the top 100 Facebook apps (at the time) to see what personal information they collected. The results are sobering --- despite the fact that Facebook’s Terms for Developers state that apps can collect only the information they need, this study showed that the norm is in fact that apps collect all sorts of personal information that cannot conceivably be necessary in order for the app to function, and that they collect it not only from the individual but sometimes from their friends as well. A similar study performed by the University of Virginia found that of the top 150 applications on Facebook (at that time), 90 percent were demanding (and being given access to) information they didn't need in order for the app to function.
It doesn’t stop with the app developers either. Know why app developers want to collect as much information as possible? They say it’s for personalization and customization in order to make your experience of the app as positive as possible, and who am I to say that’s not part of it? It is not, however, the whole of it. Not even close. All this information – self-reported personal and behavioural information – is the lifeblood of the targeted advertising market. A market that according to the Direct Marketing Association’s study brings in $156 billion in 2012.
Please know that I’m not complaining – it’s fun to see the results, to learn new things about friends or even just to have silly things to laugh about. I have to wonder though, how many people are aware of just how widespread is the audience with whom they’re sharing this information, let alone how that information is likely collected and commodified; and whether they would be as eager to participate in these quizzes if they were aware.