Research published in Vox has revealed that many games steal user data for resale to third parties. How are they used and for what purpose?
Several studies on the most famous video games for smartphones have shown that many of these apps spy on users. The games would send personal data to unidentified third parties, so that even the app developers would not know well what information is being sent and to whom.
Among the incriminated applications there would be Angry Birds. However, the developer Rovio would not know much about the identity of the phantom “third parties”. A report published on Vox has analyzed the problem, revealing that most of the apps present in a smartphone communicate with third-party software that send type advertising to the user while playing. Often these programs belong to the big names in the industry, including Facebook, Google or Twitter. The research failed to explain how these softwares collect user information.
Video games and personal data
One of the first data revealed by the Vox report is that many video games for smartphones contain within them codes entered by other companies. This is because developers no longer build apps from scratch, but take existing ones and customize them. This saves time and money. Unfortunately, however, there is a price to pay: many smartphone video games hide codes that communicate with external software, giving away users’ personal data.
Studies have shown that games are the preferred channels for collecting personal data and launching commercial messages without generating too much fuss. These are fun activities, and while they are used the level of attention is very low. The more famous the games are, the more the risks are ignored. And yet, apps of this type have enormous weight for advertising companies: they are very popular with advertisers who invest in more or less invasive advertising on a daily basis . The user on the other hand does not care or does not notice all the personal data he gives the app and to third parties with which it is connected. He simply wants to start a new game without thinking too much about the consequences.
Furthermore, the way a person plays can provide a lot of information about his mood , what he loves or what happens in his life. Many studies have shown that people play more intensely when they are on a diet or when they are depressed. As a result many applications could exploit this data to send them an advertisement about a slimming product.
Anonymous data, are we sure?
Moreover, even if the data taken from the games should be anonymous, in reality it is not so. A New York Times investigation has discovered that it is very easy to de-anonymize information taken from apps . First of all, it is possible to geo-localize the data, then go back to the position of the person in the space. In addition to this, apps are used on smartphones and can therefore be traced back to phone numbers, e-mails, social media profiles and more.
Fortunately, apps use this data for harmless purposes: especially to send personalized advertising based on the player’s interests and needs. This does not exclude the need to issue accurate privacy information when downloading.