The Hidden Dangers of the Internet: Getting more than you bargained for online

In the last week, we’ve been told we are a dead ringer for Johnny Depp, are charismatic and introverted and have an IQ of 145.

You can probably guess that we’ve been indulging in a bit of work avoidance. Also known as Facebook.

We’ve all seen those seemingly innocent online quizzes – you know the ones: What Celebrity Are You Most Like?/Who Is Your Best Friend?/ What Song Sums Up Your Life? etc etc. There are a myriad of them for you to choose from. But like everything to do with the internet, you may end up getting more than you bargained for.

Lots of these quizzes access your personal information. Anything from your age, gender, list of friends, mobile number right through to your email address can all be handed over. Essentially, these quizzes are nothing more than powerful marketing tools, and data-mining vehicles.

As part of the quiz format, you can be asked to divulge all sorts of information about yourself. And it’s these bits of information that are so valuable.

Look at these quizzes more closely, and you’ll notice that you are suddenly targeted with specific advertisements, or have to click past various promotions to get to the answers.

But it’s not just about uninvited advertising. Some quizzes ask for credit card information before they give you the answers, or you might be asked to sign up for a “free” trial which ultimately is anything but.

The more savvy internet user might be wise to these tricks and attempts to access their data. But there are even more widespread arenas at large also trying to get your personal information.

Take, for example, free WiFi. In a train, at the airport, in a shopping centre, these might seem a Godsend, allowing you free access to the internet. But even here you can find yourself a victim of hidden data-mining. The sign up process can ask you for all sorts of personal information, including your address, date of birth and contact details. Obviously in certain situations, this is evidently a marketing exercise. But often it may not be so clear. And more worryingly, users can find themselves the victims of more pernicious data collection.

Identity theft is one of the biggest security concerns facing internet users today. We’ve all read the horror stories of bank accounts being emptied, loans being refused, credit card balances reaching epic proportions – and horrendous though this is, if you’ve willingly divulged your personal information it’s going to feel a whole lot worse.

So next time you sign up for free WiFi, look closely at the terms and conditions to find out what your data will be used for. Next time you’re tempted to find out which film star would play you in a film about your life via an online quiz, ask yourself if you really need to know…

You can read more about this on the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) website here: