Are You Being Gamed?

Paula LaBrot

Back in the day, girls were advised to get a boy to talk about himself to insure a successful date. I will never forget applying that wisdom to my first date as a freshman at the University of Michigan. Hours went by in a cozy booth at the Student Union as my handsome date answered question after question about himself. I never said a word about myself, my interests, my dreams, my feelings…nada. At the end of the evening, he took me in his arms, kissed me goodnight and told me I was such an interesting person!

It turns out that men and women—seniors to toddlers, rich, poor, primitive, sophisticated—all people, generally, love to talk about themselves.This has not escaped the attention of data miners, who love to collect and sell information about individuals to a multitude of customers. Those customers use that information to market products and ideas and to manipulate public opinion and behavior. Individual users now receive targeted ads, information and suggestions based on their own psychometric profile, built on the data they themselves supplied, most often unwittingly.



In the 1980s a form of quantifying personality types emerged. Called the OCEAN Method, it used five dimensions to measure what kind of a person you are, thus making you more predictable. The traits are:

  1. Openness, how open you are to new experiences
  2. Conscientiousness, how much of a perfectionist you are
  3. Extraversion, how sociable you are
  4. Agreeableness, how considerate and cooperative you are
  5. Neurotocism, how sensitive and vulnerable you are

In 2008, young graduate students Michal Kosinski and David Stillwell, working with the newbie Facebook application, offered users a free psychometric questionnaire to get a free personality profile. Part of deal, though, was the users agreeing to share their Facebook “likes” to be analyzed. reports that, instead of an expected few dozen participants, millions of people “bared their souls.” It was a data bonanza! The biggest collection ever gathered at that time. The “likes” correlated directly with the personality traits. Software began to predict personality traits and behavior possibilities better than friends and family.

To get people to participate in the collection of their own personal data, data miners have created all kinds of personality and intelligence “quizzes” and “games.” These are very popular on sites like Facebook and Buzzfeed. The quizzes are fun. Entertaining. Amusing. A fun way to pass time.

According to, one of the most popular is “What City Should You Actually Live In?” By asking about how you take your coffee, your favorite song/food, a pick on a certain hashtag/poison/singer and other relevant questions, this quiz will estimate which city you should actually live in. (20 million people took the quiz)

Then there is “What Career Should You Actually Have?” This quiz asks you how you spend your tax refund, your favorite movie trilogy, the thing that you would bring on an island, your dream dinner guest, the place you want to live in, and some picks on a magazine/genre/social media. (18+ million participants)

Quizzes like “What Disney Princess Are You?” or “Favorite Fast Foods?” or “What Animal Are You? or “Are You A Racist? with all their seemingly innocuous questions are data goldmines. There are IQ tests as well to measure academic IQ or Emotional IQ.  Users who play these games get so into it, they don’t realize how much they are giving up. You see, by playing the game, especially if you have to click on a “results” button, you are agreeing to give up all the information about yourself gleaned from the questions, and often on Facebook, your list of contacts and “likes” as well.



By knowing so much about a user, companies can market products, play on fears and manipulate attitudes. Barack Obama targeted individual voters with psychometrics well before Cambridge Analytica was even formed. Brexit and Trump’s campaigns used data driven communications for extraordinary wins.  Kosinski has been horrified at how his research has been used to manipulate the political arena.

Those little quizzes—What River Are You? What Hogwart’s Character Are You?”—those amusing, entertaining, self-analyzing quizzes seem to be the easiest way to get information out of people who want to explore how the world sees them, people who will earnestly answer the questions posed to be told by an algorithm, “My, you are such an interesting person.”

If you want to see how Big Data sees you, your psycho-demographic profile from your digital footprints can be checked at

Vamos a Ver!


Paula LaBrot

Paula LaBrot is a 30-year resident of Topanga, a futurist with a special interest in the uncharted waters of cyberspace.

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