Dataethics.eu and Danish Society of Engineers’ Working Group on Ethics and Technology have published the report Online games gamble with children’s data.
The report sheds light on a very complicated, opaque ecosystem of gametech players, who all play a more or less invisible role in the games that Danish children spend hours on every day. The games are entertaining and immediately free to use, but they are based on business models, which often do not take into account that children have other needs and demands for the protection of their data and are easier victims of manipulation than adults.
Free-to-play is a rooftop self-help table of children’s data
Today, even small preschool children can download a new game on their devices with a single click. But even if the games do not cost any money to download and play, that does not mean that they are free. Children pay for these “free” games either through purchases in the game or with “data” – ie private information about themselves. That business model is called “Free-to-play”. And it is difficult – if not impossible – for the children, their parents and everyone else for that matter, to see how children’s data flow around between companies, how they are collected and what they are used for.
The black box
Operating behind the games is a very complicated network of advertising companies and other companies that share and use data in a way that is not transparent. It takes place in a black box. A larger study shows that out of one million mobile apps, each app sends data to an average of 10 third parties. And apps for kids are generally the worst.
It’s all about getting the child to stay just a little longer…
The gaming industry has every incentive to get the child to spend as much time in the game as possible, because the more clicks and chats and swipes – the more data to the companies behind the game. Manipulative game design is not just about getting the child to spend as much time as possible in the game and thus gain data. It can also be about advertising. Which kid didn’t want to spend time watching a colorful receiving an extra life in return?
Denmark should look to the UK
The report recommends, i.a. strengthened of the Danish Data Protection Agency and the Consumer Council and that Denmark look to the UK and their Age Appropriate Design Design Code, which partly imposes app developers responsibility for their products if children probably use theirs and which ensures a clear and distinct implementation of GDPR.
Today many tech-companies disclaim responsibility by writing in the terms and conditions that their services are not for children under 13 years of age. Even though they know that many children under 13 use them. The area is thus still a wild west, and it is a shared responsibility of Danish politicians, administrators, schools and institutions and parents to help and protect children from a safer, more secure and fun life with online games.