Video Games and Your Privacy: Who's Playing Whom?

A really interesting article.

To illustrate this difficulty: imagine if there was a rule that games had to get the player's notice and consent before they collected and used player data for any purpose. Now think about the famous fourth-wall breaking moment in Metal Gear Solid when Psycho Mantis "reads your mind" (or more accurately, read the contents of your memory card) and commented on your gameplay habits. Had Metal Gear Solid announced it intended to scan the player's data and asked for permission to do so, the surprise of Psycho Mantis's "psychic demonstration" - an enjoyable and ultimately privacy-benign moment - would have been ruined.

The problem with this comparison is that (as far as I am aware) MGS didn't transmit this data anywhere. It was just a programming trick that used information at hand on the memory card for that moment of gameplay, then discarded it once the Mantis segment was done. In that way, it's not different from if Catherine asks these questions to personalise the experience of that game alone, versus sending the information to a central server somewhere to be used later outside the confines of the game.

Of course, with cloud computing and online gaming the lines become blurrier, but I'm generally OK with using player data for that game alone, not sharing it necessarily even with the company that makes the game, and certainly not with outside marketing agencies or other third parties. Putting disclaimers in the EULA on any sort of data transmission (even if it's just to a central server for research purposes or to run the algorithms there) is a definite must.

JoeNewman:

This article is adapted from a larger piece with Joseph Jerome on video games and privacy entitled "Press Start To Track: Privacy And The New Questions Posed By Modern Videogame Technology." The full version of the paper will be published by the American Intellectual Property Law Association's Quarterly Journal later this year.

When will this be, approximately? I'm interested in reading the full article.

Speaking of "are you a pervert?", I liked the bit of data collection for the Parasite Eve game (I think it was Japan only?) where they tracked how much time gamers spent watching the risque 'shower' scene!

Is this really a problem? Like, seriously, I'm not sure what the problem is here. Any game with an online-multiplayer component pretty much passes all the multiplayer data to the company who use it for analysis, and only idiots think otherwise. How much else they pass on is going to be dependent on what the programmers want to learn. No company who has access to this data cares what you, as a specific individual, does in a game. You are a data point in a sea of data points, as useful for overarching analysis and pattern spotting as any other random gamer out there.

Now, what you probably should be more worried about is your gamertag/account info. That's much more sensitive information that is much more harmful.

Probably not as big a deal as most think. For the most part this data is simply used to gauge how well the game performs. As for the pervert thing... most people wouldn't take that information seriously since really...gamers will do things just to see what happens, how it changes things.

Push come to shove you can simply tell your firewall not to allow the game online communication.

BigTuk:
Probably not as big a deal as most think. For the most part this data is simply used to gauge how well the game performs.

No, it really isn't. As the article points out, one of the big drivers for data collection is advertising. And one of the big trends in advertising is to be as personalised and intrusive as possible.

The Gentleman:
No company who has access to this data cares what you, as a specific individual, does in a game. You are a data point in a sea of data points, as useful for overarching analysis and pattern spotting as any other random gamer out there.

Sure, they absolutely don't care what you do in game. That's pretty much the whole point - they're far more interested in all the data they can collect about what you do outside the game. As the article notes, that can include things right up to your height, weight, address, and the contents of your living room. No-one gathers that kind of information because they think it will be useful for analysing their game.

And before anyone starts asking why anyone would want to gather that sort of information in the first place, that's actually a large part of the problem. There's an awful lot of data that can be, and often is, collected, that no-one really knows what to do with. They collect it simply because they can, and it's considered to be better to have it and not need it than to not have it and then think of a brilliant way to use it. So there are all kinds of incredibly detailed personal data just sitting around the place waiting for someone to break in and spread it all over the internet.

A game dev might not care about having a 3D map of your living room, but combine that with information about your wealth and the times you're not at home and certain people could be very interested in knowing about it. GPS apps often have a privacy mode that allows you to blank out the area near your house so people can't figure out exactly where you live just by looking you up on Strava, and it's recommended not to put your address on luggage labels because thieves can and do use that information to target houses for burglary.

The point is that this isn't just a matter of whether devs are interested in your personal data. The problem is that a lot of people absolutely are interested in your personal data, and that can lead to all kinds of problems from advertising getting ever more annoying right up to criminals being handed your entire life on a plate. That doesn't mean we should all become hermits and never give any information to anyone, but the more data that is collected and left lying around, the more trouble it can potentially cause. We shouldn't run around panicking about it, but neither should we pretend there is no possible issue at all.

Push come to shove you can simply tell your firewall not to allow the game online communication.

At which point many modern games will simply not work. Like it or not, the trend to have games more and more online is not going to go away. If you want to prevent games accessing the internet you're already somewhat limited in your choice, and that's only going to increase in the future.

The Gentleman:
Is this really a problem? Like, seriously, I'm not sure what the problem is here. Any game with an online-multiplayer component pretty much passes all the multiplayer data to the company who use it for analysis, and only idiots think otherwise. How much else they pass on is going to be dependent on what the programmers want to learn. No company who has access to this data cares what you, as a specific individual, does in a game. You are a data point in a sea of data points, as useful for overarching analysis and pattern spotting as any other random gamer out there.

Now, what you probably should be more worried about is your gamertag/account info. That's much more sensitive information that is much more harmful.

Information is power and even though they don't care about the individual's data. They are looking for trends and patterns that can be used for all kinds of manipulative purposes. The fact of the matter is that you are paying to provide them with this data as part of an entertainment experience. They are using it to be more targeted in ads and marketing which at it's core, does not benefit the customer.
The fact that people gloss over the fact that they are not isolating you specifically is a bit short sighted. This whole process is so they CAN target you directly in the future. By collating data now and cross referencing your many different habits. They can put you in a box with groups of similar people and try and push your specific buttons. This is the holy grail of advertising. They will only get better at it as time goes by. Right now, people are hard at work trying to design the most perfect system for targeted ads. These are the guys who saw Minority Report and thought that future looked awesome.

 

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