How your video games are spying on you

“Espionage” and “data collection” are not fun terms and can set off alarm bells in anyone’s head. For the most part, people are aware that their devices know things about them that they don’t always want them to know, usually for marketing purposes and displaying ads. Online games can also be a source of anxiety for many people, but the information gathered is not always bad.

3 Ways Games Can Collect Information About You

You may be relieved to know that cartridge games cannot spy on you, nor can offline games after their initial download. Most user data comes from games that use the internet or store your data somewhere other than a local storage device. The main spying concern comes from games that can be played online, with or without others.

1. Cameras

Cameras are a big hot spot for privacy concerns. People frequently cover their laptop cameras for this reason alone. Most consoles don’t have a built-in camera – you have to attach one. Computers, especially those owned by streamers, likely have built-in cameras. If you are concerned about camera privacy, choose to cover your camera when not in use.

The Xbox Kinect has been criticized for its surveillance and the depth with which it can capture the human form, which makes it concerning for people who feel they are being watched. Xbox has announced that the Kinect’s camera does not deal withayour unless it’s on.

Yet despite these worries, the Kinect can be used for good, even in cases where there isn’t a single gamer at home. Having a Kinect at home can help feel when an older adult has fallen and can help them get help faster. It can mean the difference between life and death for some people, depending on who can see what the camera sees.

2. Microphones

Game console microphones allow you to play games online. They are easily integrated so that you can communicate with your friends or even random strangers without much hassle. Still, if you don’t plan on playing online with people, microphones might not seem necessary.

In this case, you can roll up your microphone and place it somewhere else until the day you plan to use it. However, the built-in microphones are a bit more difficult to manage as they are probably built into the device.

3. Use of online data

Online games can keep track of your decisions because their recorded data is not stored locally. This is how developers can pull statistics and impress you with trivia or statistics. This helps game creators see how many people are playing the game. The Elder Scrolls Online remains a popular game with between 10,000 and 15,000 players every day. Without knowing who opened the game, you wouldn’t have that kind of knowledge.

Data collection may work for you and other users at this point. If a boss is too difficult or terrain too difficult to navigate, developers can use the data they have acquired from online players and know how to tone down the difficulty level. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship – developers get much-needed data to refine their games, and you get a more fun gaming experience.

How can you protect yourself?

There are laws against excessive surveillance. Data Privacy Day, celebrated annually in January, commemorates the first international treaty concerning the collection, confidentiality and protection of data. You can follow recommended policies and procedures to protect your online data from a data breach. Improve your knowledge of the frequency of data breaches and replace your passwords with unique and strong strings of letters, numbers and symbols.

If you’re worried about someone spying on you through your cameras, you always have the option of turning them off and unplugging them. When you’re not using your Xbox Kinect or PlayStation 4 VR headset, you can unplug the cameras and place them somewhere else. You can also cover your computer camera while you game if you want an extra sense of privacy.

On a PlayStation 5, just press the microphone button on your controller to turn it off. You can also speak directly to the controller to use your console’s voice commands if you wish. These controls make it much easier to switch between when a device is on and when it’s not recording. Don’t forget to turn your devices back on eventually if you’re a streamer who records the games you play. When in doubt, turn it off to give yourself peace of mind.

Don’t worry too much about your gambling habits

As with everything, the duality of privacy while gaming is complex. Privacy will always be an issue online. Gambling is the last hobby you want to focus on. Still, you need to remember that there are other sources of cameras, microphones, and tracking devices in other areas of your life. In the age of technology, every device around us can spy on us if someone wants to, from your phone to your car. You shouldn’t diminish your gaming experience just for that.

Many games need to collect the necessary data for their games to work properly. You should have the choice to opt out of further data collection, just as you do when visiting a website. Plus, there are benefits to you or the general public from a healthy amount of “spying,” like preventing injury or improving gaming experiences. It’s far from ideal, but at less you can enjoy your games in peace and use voice commands and your camera when it suits you.


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Carolyn M. Daniel