HARMLESS FUN: Online quizzes are popular.
HARMLESS FUN: Online quizzes are popular. Gelner Tivadar

Buzzfeed denies using quizzes to pry on users

ALONGSIDE listicles and gifs, quizzes are one of three pillars of BuzzFeed. They're addictive, shareable and they give everyone a chance to feel they belong.

However, they might also be treasure troves of personal data.

At least this is what online marketing and analytics expert Dan Barker has said. "When you visit BuzzFeed, they record lots of information about you," he writes Barker in a blog post titled BuzzFeed is Watching.

"Most websites record some information. BuzzFeed record a whole ton."

Barker details how alongside the more standard data categories (including where you're connecting from; how often you've visited, and your gender and age, if available) BuzzFeed also records answers entered into the site's quizzes.

For sillier questionnaires (eg What Cheese Are You?) this is harmless, but as Barker points out, some of BuzzFeed's quizzes ask deeply personal questions. One entitled How Privileged Are You? consists of a series of tick boxes that users select based on whether they have ever been raped, attempted suicide, or tried to change their gender (among other things).

"If I had access to the BuzzFeed Google Analytics data," writes Barker, "I could query data for people who got to the end of the quiz and indicated - by not checking that particular answer - that they have had an eating disorder."

BuzzFeed has responded through various channels, assuring users that all the data collected is anonymised and aggregated.

Dao Nguyen, BuzzFeed's director of growth, left a comment on the blog, saying the company was "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 (personally identifiable information)."