The data breach at toy company VTech, which exposed the personal information of kids through its internet-connected toys, exhibited one of the dangerous sides of wide-scale data collection for minors. In addition to the typical concerns around a data breach, there was also a fear that the personal information exposed could jeopardize the safety of a child. While toy makers are increasingly using internet-connected devices to provide interactive experiences, video game companies have been collecting large amounts of user data since the inception of online gaming.
Some ascribe the beginning of widespread data collection in gaming to the Xbox 360 game console from Microsoft. In 2005, Xbox introduce a feature called in-game achievements. Achievements in video games used to mean high scores but, as reported by the Toronto Star, “Unlike the simple arcade scoreboard, which served as a monument to players’ skill, the Internet allowed companies to collect data on how players were using their systems and games in real time.”
According to researcher Alex Cybulski, “Achievements act as recognition of a player’s videogaming prowess and these trophies are facilitated by complex surveillant algorithms and code built into the architecture of contemporary videogames.” Not only are the achievements tracking a player’s abilities but also their behavior in games – for example, if players stop playing at a certain point in the game, perhaps the difficulty of this game level requires an adjustment.
As internet-connected game consoles became the standard, video game companies began processing online transactions for in-game purchases as well as digital downloads. To facilitate faster online purchasing, game networks such as Microsoft’s or Sony’s store credit card information like an online retailer. The credit card information is combined with additional data such as:
- Analysis of an individual player’s in-game activity
- Social behavior in multiplayer interactions
- In-game statistics, including high scores
- Time stamps
- In-game purchases
- Content update downloads
- Demographic information about age, gender, and location
As video games grow in sophistication, motion sensor controls and facial recognition might become standard features of video game consoles. The list of information which is collected is likely to grow.
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