Should We Care About Video Game Companies Collecting Our Data?

Should We Care About Video Game Companies Collecting Our Data?

Video games often ask us to share our data with the developers. Sometimes, games and other apps bury this question in a long privacy policy that you have to agree to in order to even load it up. And sometimes, that data gets sold or repurposed for mysterious ends. Kirk and I admitted how anxious we feel about that on this week’s episode of Kotaku Splitscreen.

Jason is recovering from oral surgery, so Kirk and I were left by ourselves to discuss the intricacies of Phoenix Wright and how its soundtrack compares to Danganronpa.

Kirk is also playing Rage 2, Destiny 2, and a tabletop game about bluffing called Sheriff of Nottingham. In the news section (33:32), we discuss that beautiful Final Fantasy 7 teaser and our own memories of the game, and then we get into the privacy of our gameplay data (or lack thereof), inspired by this Vox article.

We conclude with some off-topic discussion (58:47) about everything from Detective Pikachu to Patrick Rothfuss. Get the MP3 here, or read an excerpt below.

Kirk: [Vox reporter Kaitlyn] Tiffany uses Angry Birds as a starting point to talk about the idea of these third-party apps on your phone—they don’t all have to be games, but they can be games—the way that they have all these advertising intermediaries built into the software. You use the game, and then all of this other software is sharing your gameplay data with — it could be a whole bunch of different people.

Sometimes it’s Facebook, or Twitter, or Google. Sometimes it’s just these other companies that sell advertising data to various other people. We don’t even really know who. It gets into the whole idea of device identifiers, and tracking your device identifier across multiple apps.

The idea that children are using these things, and it’s actually illegal for children to be tracked because of COPPA (the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act), [but] that actually isn’t protecting anyone…

It left me thinking about specifically our gameplay data and the way that in any game that we play, pretty much, we almost always agree to share our data. It’s always like, “We want to make the game better. Will you share your data?” And, generally speaking, I’m guessing a lot of people just click “Yes.” Because you think, “Whatever. What am I doing right now? I’m playing this video game.”

But as we spend more time playing a game—and this is something that this Vox article lays out really well—actually you can determine a lot about somebody. Especially if it’s a game like Pokémon Go, a game that someone plays every single day. Especially that. Or even an MMO like Destiny. Bungie can tell a lot of stuff about me. They can tell who I play with, who my friends are.

Maddy: What times you play.

Kirk: How many hours, and even stuff about my play style, and what that might say about me.

Maddy: Do you just wander around aimlessly when you’re playing at certain hours of the day? How are you doing psychologically? That can all be determined from your play style, I guess. Spooky.

Kirk: There’s at least a theory for that. And that is increasingly making me feel like all of this data is something that we’re giving up so willingly and starting to wonder if we’re going to look back at this period of time as the period of time when we all just assumed that our data wasn’t our own.

Maddy: I feel like that’s already happening. I’ve experienced this with Pokémon Go. When I reinstalled this game to play it with my girlfriend, there’s all these new options in the game that actually weren’t there when I first played it. It was a weird game even when I first played it; the entire game revolves around going to real-life locations, and even at the time I was like, “This is really weird.”

But the second time around, there’s this “Adventure Sync” thing you can do where it tracks your steps even when you’re not playing the game, and the way that you get Pokémon to do anything in the game is that you have to walk around. All of it is tied to a pedometer; that’s how everything in the game is unlocked. So if you don’t connect this pedometer to be on all the time, you’d have to open up the app every time you went for a walk.

Also, it’s pointless to do that, because then you’re just opening the game all the time anyway, so it always already knows where you’re going and what your steps are. So, in order to play this game and have it function the way it’s supposed to function, you have to turn on these location services and give the game permission to track your steps everywhere you go.

I don’t go to that many locations. I work from home. I go to a track that’s near my house, and I run around the track. That’s how most of my Pokémon are levelling up. But, at the same time, I was super freaked out at the idea that I’d have to turn this on and that I’d have to get back into this game by allowing it to have access to that data, even though — this is the excuse that everybody says, that I just said — my data isn’t even very interesting.

I don’t do anything. I don’t care if they know that I go to CVS multiple times a week and swipe on the Pokéstop that’s right outside of it. That’s fine if Pokémon Go knows that I do that. But …

Kirk: But… is it?

Maddy: It’s also super fucking weird! I don’t know if I want people to know how often I go to CVS. And who is finding out? What is that data being used for? I don’t know the answer to that, and that makes me feel nervous, but in an unspecified and slightly irrational way that I can’t justify. I can’t even explain this neuroses.

It’s just like, you read Cambridge Analytica stories, you hear about the idea of your data not being your own anymore, and you’re like, that fucking sucks, but I also want to participate in playing this game and hanging out with my friends. I want to log into Facebook and find out what’s going on with people and see pictures of their babies.

But I am also having to deal with this low-level buzz of anxiety about the fact that anything that I do in these spaces is just up for grabs to the highest bidder. It blows.

Kirk: It’s so related to the fact that it’s so complicated and deliberately impossible to understand. I totally know that feeling you’re describing. I feel the same way. The feeling of a sort of helpless, “Whatever.” I would talk with Emily about having the Amazon Alexa installed, which we used to have.

We would joke about it on the podcast; I would say “Alexander,” because I couldn’t say it. However, you’ll notice I’m saying it now, and that’s because we took them all out of our house quite a while ago. As a test, we were like, “What if we unplug them all for a week and saw, in a week, is our life any worse?” I’d read enough stories about all the things it’s recording, and the data that it’s collecting, and got rid of it.

With Apple, still, I have Siri turned on. Apple has been marketing the fact that your data is your own, despite—as this Vox article actually points out—profiting quite a bit off of the in-app purchase percentage that they take from these apps that use your data in this way. It is interesting to me to see Apple going at people directly and saying, “Hey, everybody else steals your data, but we don’t. Your data is yours, and we keep it pretty safe.”

That, I feel like, is another sign that this is changing. At least they’re willing to tell us that they understand that it matters enough to tell us that they’re doing the right thing. Whether they are or not is another question.


  • We should care about anyone collecting out data, be it company or government.
    We are already being viewed as the product rather than the consumer or citizen, in a way all we are doing is paying somebody to sell us.

    The most important thing we need to do is stop being fooled in to thinking that the dangers of big data and loss of privacy are a threat on the horizon, we passed that a long time ago.
    Our own government has already tricked most people in to thinking that they want to protect our privacy when their only interest has been ensuring they have a monopoly on it.

    I posted a comment on the subject the other day, gonna leave it here as a spoiler.

    The reasons so many don’t care about digital/personal privacy is they don’t understand it, don’t realise the extent of it and just take politicians at their words when they massively misrepresent the intentions.

    When it comes to the collection and selling of our personal data I’ve lost count of how many people say we have privacy laws that protect us from that.
    Truth is our privacy laws don’t stop any of that, they just change who can collect and sell that data.
    Their purpose has always been about ensuring that the government and politicians were the main beneficiaries of the collection/selling by forcing big data to go through them and cutting the competitors out of the equation to increase the value of that data.

    (For the sake of saving space I’m gonna post the rest of my rant on the terrifying scale of privacy invasion in Australia as a spoiler, I might as well be ruining the ending of what sounds like a bloody sci-fi movie after all, I really wish it was)

    Its those same laws, lack of transparency and understated rhetoric that have led to every recent form of big profile data collection in Australia going toward building a detailed database on every individual Australian.
    Out recent census data made the foundation, the metadata grab adds our digital footprint, My Health Records tie in our medical history, the drivers license photo collection and voice identification in government services is for facial and vocal recognition and the upcoming financial record tracking will give them endless data on spending habits.
    The most upsetting one though was the use of the same sex marriage plebiscite as a cover for attaching detailed voter preferences to the database, that’s why politicians went out of their way to align the choice so closely to party lines.

    I know people will be quick to call all of this out as a crazy conspiracy theory but none of it is actually hidden from us, it’s all readily available to read if your willing to go through the boring and vague legislations and fine print in the various laws and programs, not to mention the many qualified privacy experts, firms and advocates detailing it all over the years to almost zero coverage.
    The anonymity we were told about only ever covered a few small stages of the overall process and never ever applied to all parties involved in the grand scheme.

    The scariest thing right now though is for all their chest beating and criticism of China’s new Social Score and Facial Recognition programs, the Australian government has been rolling out the same damn programs with far, far less transparency and coverage.
    What little they have spoken about already contradicts most of their existing rhetoric and the rest has been desperately protected from the public through red tape and attempts to remove their actions from freedom of information access via other laws.
    It’s actually pretty terrifying that China of all counties has been more open about this stuff than our own government who talks about how evil and dangerous it all is while doing the same on the sly.

  • My washing machine broke down yesterday. My partner and I sent imessage text messages to each other, confirming the troubleshooting steps to identify what in particular about it might be broken and whether we were better off repairing or replacing.

    Within minutes we started getting text messages, emails, and facebook/twitter ads about white goods sales.

    There is no escaping big brother. Pandora’s box has been opened and is already empty. Accept your inevitable defeat.

    • As much as I hate to say it – you’re right. We’re reliant on these services. And yeah somebody will go “But I don’t use X so neither should you!” but the network effect is well and truly established. It’s hard to get people to abandon something like Facebook or Google or whatever.

      That said I don’t think that means we have to surrender all data to all parties. Vigilance is still important.

      • Vigilance is still important

        True that, the damage is done in a lot of areas but now is a good time to put pressure on politicians due to their focus on data and privacy right now.
        People should be concerned because it’s not our privacy that made the governments of the world sit up and take notice, it’s that companies like Facebook and others were able to show just how much they can influence people without then realising.
        There a lot of talk about stopping companies from having that kind of power, not enough talk about making sure we aren’t handing that power over to those who have more ways to misuse it.

    • I was going a damn good job of avoiding the worst of the targeted marketing, no Facebook/social media, multiple emails for multiple purposes etc

      But then I had a kid and within weeks the various links created by my offspring between me, my identity and my partner got nailed down far more than I’ve ever allowed before, I got smashed with nappy ads, baby classes, day care options and more.

      I’ve managed to crawl my way out of the hole a little now but I doubt I will ever enjoy the same level of anonymity I once did.

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