There is no denying that video games are the most popular form of entertainment around the world. Privacy is rarely a consideration.
According to the Entertainment Software Association, over 66% of households, some two-hundred and eleven million people, in the United States own an electronic gaming device. With new games being released into the market every day, there has never been a better time to be a gamer.
However, with advancements in gaming console technology comes a greatly increased risk to the protection of your digital privacy.
PrivacyWe presents ten terrible ways video games can be used to violate your privacy.
1) Tracking Your Purchases
One of the most common video game personal privacy risks is the tracking of your gaming and in-app store purchases.
Advertisers pay big money for game player information. They use it to build psychographic profiles of each and every player, and target them with advertising that will persuade clicks and purchases. Lists can be sold and resold again and again.
Any time you make a purchase, whether it’s the game itself or a consumable or non-consumable from the game’s in-app store, the developer receives information about you. This information obviously includes what you’ve purchased and for how much. But it can also include personal private information such as your name, address, and phone number. Riskier websites might even share your credit card or payment information with the game maker.
Given the recent gun violence in the United States, your purchases could soon be monitored by the government and law enforcement agencies. Buying a First-Person-Shooter or violent game could result in being placed on watch lists.
2) Violating Privacy By Sharing Your Data with Third-Parties
With the rise of big data and the fact that most games are now online, it’s easy to see why many people are concerned about the risks to their personal privacy protection. While some companies like Blizzard are taking steps toward assuring the protection of privacy while gaming, other companies are not.
Some video game companies are notorious for sharing private information with third-party marketing companies. All without player consent or knowledge.
The data collected is extensive. It includes much more than your name, email, address, and phone number. It can easily include the games you play, the people you play with, where you live … exactly where you live, where you work or go to school, how many hours you play, and when you play. Collected data can also include which parts of the game you spend the most time in, the characters you play the most, features you use or enjoy, and of course in-game advertising that you react to.
3) Violating Privacy By Collecting Personal Information and Making You Accept It
One of the most common ways games violates your privacy is by collecting personal information before you even start playing.
On a visible level, this can include your name, age, gender, location or any other information you are forced to answer. On an invisible level it can include the device and dozens of other data points you may not be aware of.
Most games force players to consent to the data collection, holding the game itself hostage until you do.
The vast majority of games have privacy policies and user agreements. Be sure to read them carefully before accepting the terms.
4) Sharing Your Private Data with Other Players
Leaderboards are ways of sharing personal achievements with the entire gaming world. They’ve been around since the days of the arcades and are extremely popular.
Players should be aware that when you play a game, the game is collecting vast amounts of information about you. Some of which is shared with the entire gaming community. Achievements, scores, player names, locations and time zones are just some of the private information your favorite game might share with the world. And sometimes, as with Massively Multi-Player Online Games, you might not have much choice.
This is particularly problematic for younger players whose player data can be used to reveal their real-world identity. This can expose players to harassment, cyberbullying, cyberstalking, and other cybercrimes.
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5) Using Your Name and Address in Marketing Materials
The video game sign-up process includes giving the game company your name, email address and password.
Game companies use this information to verify you as the authorized player of the game. They use it to log and track game progress and purchases. And they also use it to market new updates, products, services and other games to you.
See how Tim Horton’s used their app to violate user privacy.
If a game company uses a third-party marketing service, that service has access to and use of your information too. In addition, there is very little to stop a game company or marketing service from selling your information for profit.
6) Violating Your Privacy Rights
While most video game developers are passionate about making fantastic games that offer fun experiences, there are others with more diabolical purposes in mind.
Some game developers create games for the sole purpose of collecting and selling as much personal private data about you as possible. They track and store your data, use it to identify you, pinpoint your interests and preferences, and then sell it all to marketing companies around the world. They design their games for the purpose of displaying ads first; the game experience is secondary.
Free-to-Play and Freemium games use advertising as their primary revenue model. As the demands of advertisers increase (along with the money offered), so does the pressure to meet these demands. Games are a business like any other, and they need to make money. If that’s at the cost of your personal privacy, so be it.
7) Tracking Your Location
Geolocation data is a big deal.
Your location can be identified in many different ways. You share it through surveys, questionnaires, or sign-up forms. Or you revealing it knowingly or unwittingly through your gaming device’s GPS, or through a process of WiFi triangulation. Regardless, your location can be easily and quickly identified with an accuracy of just a few feet.
Game developers have many reasons to want to know your location. Betting games must ensure they are within jurisdictional boundaries. MMOGs want to align players within time zones and geographic regions. And games like Pokemon Go use location to place virtual objects within the real world.
Locations can be stored to create pathing data. Pathing data can be used in many different ways from literally mapping out your daily routines to building an understanding of your unique behaviors.
Advergaming is that where the game is commissioned or designed for the exclusive purpose of pitching a particular product or collecting user data for advertising.
One of the most common ways video games violate your privacy is by purposely selling your personal information to advertisers.
Most often this is done when an advertiser or agency commissions a game developer to create a game on their behalf to promote specific products or collect user data.
These companies use the information they gather on you to target you with ads, and they pay video game developers for the privilege. This works when you see an advertisement for something you’ve just looked at or searched for online in your browser’s history. This is a big problem because companies are using the data from your browser history to target you with ads.
9) Violating Your Privacy By Tracking You While You Play Their Games Without Telling You
There are over three-hundred and fifty thousand video game developers around the world, and well over a million and a quarter video games to choose from.
Not all developers are good-guys. Most games offer the choice and opportunity to protect your personal privacy. But as a recent Wired article exposed, some games are actively tracking their player, incorporating facial recognition technologies, sharing biometric data with law enforcement and governments, and installing surveillance and control systems onto the user’s devices.
Researchers have scraped intimate and extensive player data from Massively Multi-Player Role-Playing (MMORG) games from public websites and were able to build individualized profiles. None of the players were aware this was happening.
This type of invasion on personal privacy is problematic. The correlation between the type of game being played and the player’s personality from data puts players at dire risk of all sorts restrictions. I like to play flight simulator games, but this doesn’t make me a pilot. Nor does the fact that I crash more often than I land make me a national security risk as much as it does a lousy pilot.
10) Keeping Personal Data When You Ask Them to Delete It
Data and privacy protection rules vary from nation to nation. But one thing remains common across all continents. Holders of personal data are required to delete the data when specifically requested to do so.
What happens when they don’t, but told you they did?
This exposes players, especially children to great risk. The GDPR and other agencies make it very clear that the consequences of maintaining such data will result in severe penalties and fines. But not every developer cares, nor is every developer within the reach of these agencies. Countries such as China are not as aggressive about enforcing the data privacy laws of the western world.
By this point we understand the risks related to advertisers and marketers, but what happens if the data falls into the wrong hands, malicious hands?
You have to pay if you want to play. But even paid-for games track and collect private user data.
There is no question that video games are an excellent and fun way to relax and be entertained.
However, players must be vigilant in the protection of their privacy while online or within the digital world.
Written by: AUTUMN MCMAHON
What do you think about video games and privacy?
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