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Playing with privacy

Gaming console

As the holidays approach, remember that when it comes to playing video games online, defence is your best offence.

The way we play video games has changed radically since the days of cartridge- and disc-based gaming. Most major games are now downloadable, wholly virtual and constantly connected. We now regularly play games with people around the world on a multitude of devices.

According to a report from the Entertainment Software Association of Canada, 53% of Canadians regularly play video games, with 49% of adults and 70% of teens playing online with other people. The same research indicates that 74% of adults with children between the ages of 6 and 17 play video games regularly with their children. Without question, gaming is an integral part of Canadian entertainment life.

While scoring points and unlocking new worlds may be the name of most games, privacy shouldn’t be an afterthought. With the holidays upon us and gaming gear topping the wish lists of kids and adults alike, it is a good time to think about how information is collected, shared and used by everyone in the gaming ecosystem. With that in mind, we have pulled together some tips and tricks aimed at helping gamers better protect their personal information while playing games online.

These tips are adapted from our Gaming and personal information: playing with privacy guidance.

1.  Read and understand the game’s privacy policy

When you register for a gaming service for the first time, the service will likely ask you to establish a profile. The game usually requests access through an interface or a form that allows you to provide some information and set some personal preferences. The game usually presents privacy settings at this stage, and requests consent for the gaming service to collect and store your personal information.

The privacy policy is generally provided for review on screen or as a hyperlink. You may also have an opportunity to review the privacy policy when you set up features for a console or device to connect with a wireless network.

Privacy policy information can be very helpful for finding out what information is gathered through the game console, where it goes, how it gets used and who to contact if you have a problem or question.

In Canada, gaming companies need to obtain meaningful consent from players if personal information is being collected, used or disclosed.

2.  Set and adjust your privacy settings

The choice given to gamers around privacy controls depends greatly on the gaming platform, companies involved and features of the game itself. Some platforms offer exhaustive and detailed controls, while others provide only one or two choices.

  • For simple, single-player games there could be limited or extensive collection of information in order to serve ads to you while playing.
  • Large, multi-player environments may require considerable personal information – including your preferences about how you communicate with other gamers.
  • On the other hand, they may allow you to play relatively anonymously with a quick sign-up involving a username, password and email address.

In more sophisticated gaming environments, you can often set your privacy settings very restrictively so that no one can see your personal details except the game company itself. This level of security is not very conducive to multiplayer gaming or the social aspects of the online experience. As a result, many gamers choose less restrictive settings.

Similarly, some games ask permission to access your device’s camera, microphone or location data in order for the game to function properly. It may be appropriate to allow access while playing, but you should have the ability to turn off access when not.

3.  Safeguard your gaming profile

Given that personal information or financial details are often part of gaming profiles, it is best to use:

  • Strong passwords
  • Multi-factor authentication (where available)
  • HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure), a web application option that will encrypt personal information and in-game communications as it travels across the web
  • Restrictive privacy settings
  • Minimal personal information of a sensitive nature (for example, your home address, school or work-related details)

If permitted in a game’s terms of service, you can also adopt a pseudonym or nickname. But remember: if you use the same pseudonym across a number of games or social platforms, people may be able to identify you more easily.

Also, be careful when clicking on links within in-game chats, especially if you don’t know the other gamer in real life – they may be phishing attempts.

4.  Know what the gaming company is doing with your personal information

Gaming companies may share your information for purposes such as:

  • Monitoring disruptive behaviour
  • Resolving service problems
  • Furthering game development
  • Allowing communication between individual gamers
  • Providing participants with advertising and promotional information

The list of third parties may include:

  • Individual programmers under contract (anywhere in the world)
  • Financial institutions
  • Internet service providers
  • Researchers
  • Advertisers
  • Marketers

Gamers should make sure the console company or gaming service sets out specific terms about accountability and safeguards for personal information in their Terms of Service agreement. Seeking consent or providing notice to consumers is also very important. Gamers should also take note if a company contact is specified.

5.  Know what younger gamers are playing

Many adults do not understand what is happening behind their computer screens – we certainly cannot expect children to appreciate fully how their personal information is being collected and used.

Parental control and valid consent from children and youth are among the main privacy issues with online games. Our office believes that children under 13 cannot usually provide valid consent. If gaming services believe a child to be under 13, they need to request consent from a parent. Then, after registration, the parent should have options to control:

  • Their child’s access to content
  • Ability to chat with other gamers
  • How personal information will be shared

To learn more about protecting your privacy, see Tips for using privacy settings, Staying safe on social media and Protecting personal information on your mobile devices. For more information about staying safe when online gaming, check out this video.

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