Report: Activision Blizzard Wants To Know How Its Employees' Pregnancies Are Going

Photo: Jae C. Hong, AP

A story published by the Washington Post Tuesday night revealed that game publisher Activision Blizzard has been offering third-party fertility and pregnancy tracking services to its employees—and then receiving their anonymised data back in return.

Ovia Health offers a suite of wellness apps for family planning, allowing users to input their personal information to keep track of their efforts to conceive and maintain a healthy pregnancy, and for documenting a child’s health once they’re born.

According to The Post, Ovia also provides employers who pay for it access to anonymised, aggregate data that tells them much of what their employees put into their Ovia apps, “from their trying-to-conceive months to early motherhood.”

The company claims it complies with privacy laws, and Activision Blizzard also reportedly places strict controls on who can view the data. The story quotes Milt Ezzard, Activision Blizzard’s vice president of global benefits, as saying that Ovia was instrumental in shifting employee sentiment towards apps that ask for personal information.

“Each time we introduced something, there was a bit of an outcry: ‘You’re prying into our lives,’” Ezzard told The Post, later noting that employees’ attitudes have improved since Ovia was first offered in 2014. “Eventually people understood it’s all voluntary, there’s no gun to your head, and we’re going to reward you if you choose to do it.”

The company reportedly offers employees a $US1 gift card for each day the app is used, but didn’t otherwise disclose how the anonymised data is used.

Despite its assurances of privacy, there is concern that data could still be attributed to individual employees in instances like this from clues derived from real-life interactions, and privacy experts caution that the data harvested from wellness apps could lead to insurance companies using that data to deny coverage or increase premiums.

In an email to Kotaku, an Ovia spokesperson said that employers never see the “personal, intimate information” users enter into the app. Instead, it said, employers see “percentage-based,” “aggregate, de-identified data to ensure that Ovia is helping women have healthier outcomes — i.e. are outcomes improving? Are employees using the benefit?”

Kotaku reached out to Activision Blizzard for comment and will update this story should it respond. For more, read the full story over at the Washington Post.


Comments

    I don't care how anonymised it is, it's creepy AF.

      i don't know what you're talking about darren.

      say, how was last nights intercourse? 20 minutes and 12 seconds sounds like a decent effort!

        Dude on his honeymoon. Mate puts a device under the mattress before they get there. It posts to twitter each time their is 'activity'.

        Posted length of activity, weight and intensity.

        Pretty funny.

    Wants to know how its pregnant employees are going...

    after being fired.

    GG Blizzard

      Don't be silly they wouldn't fire them. Cut their health insurance to not cover it yes but never fire them for it h=

    They are trying to determine if all those hot Overwatch characters have boosted the fertility rate.

    Just another sign that privacy is something of a myth in this day and age. As soon as you give your information to someone else, it's no longer yours to control. That doesn't seem to bother most people though as they are happy to advertise everything about their life on social media.

      It's hard to say no to that sweet $1 per day gift card.

      I recently terminated my FB account and it's pretty freeing. Can't see ever going back.

    This is unbelievably fucked. Shut it down.

    Oh hell no....
    I've been bringing up my concerns with gaming companies and personal data for a while, not because it's something that might happen but because it's something that seems to be happening now.
    I've already pointed out Activisions interest in this kinda stuff and it's now blatantly clear it's more than a scary pipe dream.

    This shit always gets put up on the info being private, anonymous and never accessible to others but that is never the case, it's not private if someone else is collecting it, there is always a way of linking it directly to individuals and the very nature of the industry is to sell that info in one form or another.
    The recent Australian census is a perfect example of this bullcrap with folks still parroting the anonymous, inaccessible and private claims made by the government when it never was to begin with.
    The MyGov systems, Same Sex Plebiscite results, My Health Records and the upcoming Financial Record collection are the kinds of data sets the ABS was speaking about when it dismissively admitted that data sets would be linked.
    The company that sent out the SMS questions surrounding the plebiscite boasted that it had nothing to do with the subject and was a means to build their voter tracking system, a system that not only told politicians how people might vote but also who to target (with missinformation) to change the minds of voters.
    They even let slip that info was bolstered by the Census data.

    It won't be long till games become a way not only to collect data but also as a means to manipulate people in a number of different ways and not only for things like microtransactions.

      I think you'll find games have been doing that for quite some time. How many game clients have you signed up for? How many online accounts have you created to log into game servers? All of them collect data about you and log various bits of information about what you do in game. They also use it to advertise at you. "Hey, you might like these other games we publish." "Hey, we have a deal on our fake money that you can use in games!" etc.

      How many games have you linked to Facebook or Twitter? This isn't just to "Be social", it's also to use you as advertising to other people, especially if you get in game rewards for making referrals. It's the same with how many mobile games give you "friend credits" encouraging you to get as many people signed up as possible.

        Yeah that's exactly what I mean, it didn't take long for companies like Facebook to look beyond marketing and advertising and start asking the question, "What else can we do with this info?" and the results were psychological profiling and manipulation, targeted propaganda, mood manipulation and worse.
        All it takes is for folks to get lazy, trusting and forgetful.

        I already posted a frightening leak linked to Anthem that spoke of an insane AI system that not only manipulates individul players but also gathers information to be combined with the kinds of personal information already accessible to them directly or via other sources.
        I was surprised how many thought it sounded like a pipe dream or distopian future rather than something that was possible and present long ago.

    Activision Blizzard wants to know about how employee pregnancies are going?
    Oh fuck off Activision Blizzard and let's get around to getting some answers when is Spyro Reignited Trilogy coming to Nintendo Switch also when is Overwatch is coming to Nintendo Switch as well that's what I want to know.
    No more fucking excuses Activision Blizzard you've already laid off 209 employees.
    Now get some fucking answers Activision Blizzard.
    When is Spyro Reignited Trilogy coming to the Nintendo Switch?
    And when is Overwatch coming to Nintendo Switch?
    I demand some answers Activision Blizzard I'm not putting up with this shit.

    Pregnancy simulator the next big IP from ActiBlizz

      With a 9-month sequel release cycle?

      No they're working on an IRL Pregnancy speed-up service. You buy loot boxes with a chance to win up to a month off your pregnancy.
      Basically P2W pregnancy.

    I don't see any problem with this. It's a voluntary programme through a third party with anonymised data. As a large employer, Activision Blizzard has an interest in streamlining its human resources procedures for dealing with pregnant employees. It should result in better employment practices for women working for Blizzard.

    People are quick to see 'Big Brother' here, but come on, what malicious use is Activision possibly going to make of these data?

      Change their health insurance for one, sell the data for a second

        What do you mean 'change their health insurance'?

        And if they sell the data, what's wrong with that? If it's anonymised, there's no connection between the data and the people who provide it.

          Not sure if you're aware of this but most of America have their health insurance provided by their employers so yes they can indeed change their health insurance based on the data received.

      It never starts maliciously but the pattern is always the same, the protections are always the first thing to go in time.

      As I mentioned above the Australian Census is a perfect example of the slow erosion, a voluntary, anonymous collection of data that became madetory while allowing that data to be linked to individuals at the back end in preparation for the inevitable changes in policy and legislation.
      The small print was very clear on this but used people's lack of understanding as a way of slipping it under our noses.
      Your data is linked to your name and plenty of people can access it via countless loopholes.
      My Health Records was another example of a voluntary, private collection of data that turned out to be a farce with the data gathered and sold off before the protections were even put in place, the company behind it let off with a fake slap on the wrist and left to continue its work.
      (It's ok though, we were given strongly worded vocal assurances it wouldn't happen again)
      Scarier still the various companies who expressed strong interest in the "private" data and lobbied for the system in the first place knowing that they will inevitably gain access eventually, Optus, Telstra, the ATO among many others.
      Even the largest medical lobbyist in Australia pushed for the system, only to begin lobbying for widespread changes, arguing that it's not in the interest of the individual to actually be able to access that info.

      I also guarantee that data is one of the many data sets linked to your census information as per the ABS's own small print.
      Very few actually looked at the technical jargon and asked how something linked to you as an individual and then linked to other individual data sets could actually still be called anonymous.

      The most common loopholes used in these situations is applying the protections to the data in a certain form, such as the basic collection.
      However once you start shifting that data around in to different sets, it's no longer bound by those protections and can be easily linked to other info being held such as your email and the personal information tied to that.
      It's also very common for these companies to just change their policies and it would surprise many people how often they aren't actually required to inform anyone of those changes.

    "Anonymized", "private", "seen only by few", "rewarded", etc. I see a lot of vague reassurances that it is "ok" and not a single reason why the flying duck do they feel the need to collect this data.

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