- The Washington Times - Friday, January 29, 2016

The Better Business Bureau said it is investigating “Be Like Bill,” an online stick figure generator gone viral, amid privacy concerns being raised by Facebook users.

Steve Bernas, the president and CEO of the consumer watchdog’s Northern Illinois office, told NBC News in Chicago on Wednesday that phones in the bureau have been ringing off the hook recently with calls from people who said they’re concerned about their privacy after plugging their personal details into the popular app, which generates a stick figure drawing that can then be shared on social media.

A Facebook page for the meme has received more than 1.5 million “likes” since being launched earlier this month, and avoiding the stick figures has been a challenge for most anyone with an active Facebook account for the better part of 2016.

Until that popularity plateaus, however, Mr. Bernas said he fears imitators and cybercriminals could be inclined to copy the app for their nefarious means.

The BBB is now investigating “Be Like Bill” to find out how the app works and who is behind it, Mr. Bernas said. In particular, he added that his agency is worried that hackers may emulate the stick figure generator to create look-a-likes that could then be used to harvest personal data.

BBB national spokeswoman Katherine Hutt confirmed the investigation to USA Today on Friday and said the organization has reached out to Facebook for assistance as well.

“It’s critical to read the terms of any online agreement (including privacy statements) before clicking ‘I Agree’ or sharing personal information,” she said. “Many of these sites were created solely for the purpose of harvesting data for resale, and by simply playing a game or taking a quiz, you could be giving the app access to a tremendous amount of information about you, your friends, the things you like, the things you buy and more.”

Bloba, the greater of “Be Like Bill,” told NBC that the app doesn’t collect any data from the accounts of Facebook users, nor does it store any information on its servers.

• Andrew Blake can be reached at ablake@washingtontimes.com.

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