Playing video games used to be one of the most private activities one could engage in. If you told someone that video games were one of your hobbies, they might automatically assume that you were anti-social; while they might have been right at one point, today such assumptions may simply be wrong. In what may be one of the biggest 180’s the world has seen during the past decade or so, video games have transformed from a private affair to one of the most social activities available. However, there are consequences to such a transformation. A multitude of privacy concerns are stemming as a result of video games going social. Contrary to what many might expect, these concerns are not solely applicable to the pure social-networking games you might play on Facebook.
In the gaming context, analytics essentially uses game data and information gleaned from the gamers’ actions throughout a game as a method of studying gamers’ behavioral patterns while they play. In the case of a game displaying advertisements, analytics can even report how long a gamer viewed a specific advertisement. In the case of a Triple-A title like “Call of Duty,” Infinity Ward (the developer) uses analytics to track gamers’ actions and uses this data to improve future games and updates. Larry Mellon, former analytics lead for titles such as “The Sims Online,” confessed the importance of analytics for a developer: “where you’re continually improving the game over years, it’s invaluable to see how people play the game today, when you’re trying to plan for tomorrow.” Sounds great, right? Maybe not if you take a minute to consider exactly how analytics software can acquire this information.
Last August, an analytics service offered by KISSmetrics came under fire when Wired reported that the company was using “Etag” technology, which continued to track people regardless of steps they had taken to protect their privacy. Using the Etag technology, Hulu and other KISSmetrics customers were able to track users’ internet habits even if they deleted their cookies. This activity resulted in Hulu users filing a class action lawsuit against KISSmetrics and its customers for alleged violations of the federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act and California’s Computer Crime Law. The use of the “Etag” technology in question allegedly allowed KISSmetrics and customers to collect personal information and internet communications from users even after users believed they had either prevented such tracking or “opted-out” from it.