Technology'Gamers' and whale hunters: this is how video games impact the privacy...

‘Gamers’ and whale hunters: this is how video games impact the privacy of their users

Screenshot of the latest title in the Grand Theft Auto sagaRockstar games

When a gamer He throws himself into criminal life through the virtual worlds of Grand Theft Auto (GTA), leaving much more than a trail of robberies in his wake. Their leisure hours are translated for the developer of this video game, Rockstar Games, into a set of data that ranges from those provided by the user, such as name, age or email, to those that are registered inside the game, such as achievements, scores and other statistics. “We collect information about the game even if you do not register for the services and we may collect information about the game while you are offline,” its privacy policy states.

GTA’s is just one example of a widespread practice in the digital ecosystem and specifically among video game developers, but it has not received the same scrutiny in this sector as others. “In the case of social networks, there have been scandals that have focused on them. Furthermore, in gaming communities, magazines, podcasts, YouTube videos, privacy is never mentioned ”, explains Jacob Leon Kröger, researcher at the Weizenbaum Institute for the Connected Society (Berlin).

This disinterest contrasts with the wealth of information that can be extracted in the video game environment. Levels of motivation or moods such as fun, frustration, pride, shame, anxiety or hopelessness can be inferred from user behavior patterns within the game. The player portrays himself with every decision he makes, with the way he customizes his avatar or the objectives he attacks.

Likewise, it is possible to detect the profiles whose statistics indicate a greater predisposition to spending and focus on those players, known in the industry as whales, the personalized advertising efforts to boost sales within the game. All this is completed with a growing ecosystem of sensors where, in addition to collecting the interactions with the controls of the console, voice records, facial expressions, heart rate, location and even eye movements can be processed.

A user plays Ring Fit Adventure, Nintendo's active video game focused on physical exercise
A user plays Ring Fit Adventure, Nintendo’s active video game focused on physical exerciseChina News Service / China News Service via Getty Ima

Kröger also warns that the little consulted privacy policies also fall short in the portrait they draw of the uses that the developer can give to that information: “There are many highly sensitive personal attributes that can be inferred from video games: your fears, your preferences, your abilities … ”. The developers take the trouble to detail the data they collect, as established by law, but they do not make the same effort to specify how it will be used or the information they can obtain by combining different variables. “We may combine information about the juice mode with other information we have about you,” Rockstar policies allow. “These inferences are a big black hole,” says the researcher.

Is there a way to avoid that potential overexposure? According to Kröger, it is complicated. On the one hand, it is not a common user to be able to gauge how much information he gives, since the most frequent approach is a “take it or leave it”. On the other hand, by ignoring what is inferred about us, we do not know what we are defending ourselves against. Some precautions could be to check if the developer has been involved in a privacy scandal or take into consideration its business model: if its income comes exclusively from advertisers, it is expected that the appetite for data is greater.

On the other hand, the researcher wonders how many games or applications a person needs to be happy. “Every application is a threat to privacy and many people have too many. We don’t need so many ”, he assures. According to App Annie data for the second half of 2020, the average user has 110 applications installed on their mobile device. “The most important thing is that this is not an issue that users can solve. It is a systemic problem that must be resolved at the regulatory level. We simply need different privacy laws, “he concludes.

In this sense, Kröger defends an approach that is more focused on the use of the data than on its collection. “And governments should have expert committees that assess whether certain uses of certain data are ethically defensible or harmful and prohibit them regardless of consent,” he continues. “I don’t think we should be allowed to consent to everything because we don’t understand enough.”

The look, last frontier

The advancement of virtual reality increases the urgency of seeking a more effective approach to protecting the privacy of gamers. Kröger, who has dedicated part of his research to consulting patents in this area, warns that eye movement monitoring is increasingly present in helmet prototypes.

If we entered a virtual world carrying one of these devices, we would leave everything we see within reach: what we interact with, how our pupils dilate or contract when faced with stimuli, the time we look at each thing, the course that our attention follows. … “All that says a lot about us. I think over time it will make us completely transparent. “

Virtual Reality Installation "A Curious Game of Croquet" at the Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser Exhibition Opening at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, England.
Virtual Reality Installation “A Curious Game of Croquet” at the Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser Exhibition Opening at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, England.Photo by Jeff Spicer / Getty Images

You can follow EL PAÍS TECNOLOGÍA at Facebook Y Twitter or sign up here to receive our weekly newsletter.

Most Viewed