When You Game Online, Your Info Is Saved. But Who Saves It?

Posted by | May 24, 2014 | Tips for Parents | No Comments
Big Brother is watching privacy

In the last decade of popular online console gaming, a generation of human beings has gone from tiny babies to hormonal middle schoolers. If you’re a young person, that might sound like an eternity. For older folks, it hasn’t been long at all.

Whether because online games have been with us for too long, or because they have not been with us for long enough, there is a certain “Wild Westy-ness” to the current state of personal privacy. The local sheriff might have your back in a fight…or he might not. The best way to keep your information safe is to try to keep it to yourself, as much as possible.

In a recent article published on The Escapist, privacy and technology lawyer Joe Newman explains a moment playing the game Catherine in which the game asked him some pretty personal questions about his sexual preferences. It wasn’t until after he had answered them that he wondered in whom he had just confided. True, Newman wasn’t answering as himself: in the game Catherine, the player controls main character Vincent as he navigates the perilous world of relationships and affairs. So, Newman probably answered the questions with the intention of creating a certain storied experience, rather than explicitly revealing truths about himself. But the way we answer these questions, even when we’re not “being ourselves,” can still be valuable to marketers.

Game decisions

Decision-making plays a role in all kinds of games. Source: Hellmode.com

You may have heard of Target’s ability to predict pregnancy before the future mother knows herself. What that story revealed was that if someone pays attention to your behavior for long enough and with enough detail, they can learn all kinds of things about you that you weren’t trying to tell them. Things like whether or not you are likely to spend more money for extra downloadable content during gameplay.

Privacy means different things to different people,” Newman explains, “but how would you feel if you found out that your game got artificially harder for you simply because an algorithm had deduced you might be willing to pay real money for some powerups? It’s a very slippery and very dangerous slope.”

This doesn’t mean that you should burn your Xbox and go live in the mountains. Many of the people who collect information use it for perfectly innocent—and sometimes perfectly awesome—ends. Games like Mass Effect and The Walking Dead will give you different endings depending on the choices that you make, providing amazing opportunities for moral exploration and introspection. Not to mention, collecting player data is a great way for developers to find glitches or bad design flaws in their games.

The takeaway here is that you should pay attention to what you give, because even if your information is safe now, who knows where it will be in five years? Once it’s on the internet, it’s out of your hands. Young kids might not be aware of the risks, whether it’s because they have never had credit card numbers or simply because they feel they have nothing to hide. But information is power, and you know what Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben says about great power.

Spider Man

As a good practice, try encouraging your kids to write down all of the information they give to a game or to a console. It’s easy to check a box off-handedly and then forget it ever happened, but the computer doesn’t forget. By simply making yourself (and your kids) aware of what the game knows or doesn’t know, you remind yourself to make informed decisions about what to share in the future. This can also help teach kids about how advertisers and marketers do their work, which is essential for self-defense in today’s era of easy-access information.

While reading Privacy Policies and Terms of Service is never a bad idea, those are usually written to protect the big companies rather than the individual users, and they can typically change at any time. It is a good idea to decide as a family what kind of information you feel comfortable sharing and with whom. You might, for example, feel comfortable giving your credit card number and birthday to iTunes, but not to a company that you have never heard of. You might also choose to avoid providing the real names of your children and instead create fun code names for your Miis or other avatars. Having rules in advance will help train your kids to be aware of what they are telling to strangers.

And of course you can always choose to play games offline by unhooking your console’s connection to the internet. As Joe Newman reminds us, “just because a game asks you for your information doesn’t mean you always have to provide it.”

(Source: The Escapist)

Courtney Holmes

About Courtney Holmes

Courtney is Pixelkin's Associate Managing Editor. While working with the Girl Scouts of Northern California, she mentored young girls in teamwork, leadership, personal responsibility, and safety. Today, she spends her time studying adolescent development and using literary analysis techniques to examine video games.