GTA’s is just one example of a widespread practice in the digital ecosystem and specifically among video game developersBut 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 gamer communities, magazines, podcasts, YouTube videos, privacy is never mentioned ”, he explains. Jacob Leon Kroeger, 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.
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 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 include checking if the developer has been involved in a privacy scandal or taking into consideration its business model: if its income comes exclusively from advertisers, it is to be 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 devoted 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 wearing 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. “
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.