“None of us asked for your data. But we have it anyway, and forever.”
May 17, 2019 12:59 PM   Subscribe

Angry Birds and the end of privacy [Vox] “Though it doesn’t often come up and is confusing to think through, almost every app on your phone is full of third-party advertising intermediaries — at a minimum, ad software owned by Facebook or Twitter or Google, but often a couple dozen other companies you haven’t even heard of, as well. This includes game apps as innocuous if obnoxious-seeming as Angry Birds and its descendants, like Fruit Ninja (by the Australia-based Halfbrick Studios) and Candy Crush (by Malta-based developer King). These third parties collect information that allows them to keep intricate histories of your behavior, and use it to make money from you in ways you might not expect or even see. [...] The fact that it’s all so confusing is kind of the point, obviously. And as a result, mobile games have escaped the level of scrutiny we’ve applied to social media companies, despite being — as a category — nearly equally popular and far more likely to be used by children.” [h/t Johnny Wallflower]

• How Game Apps That Captivate Kids Have Been Collecting Their Data [New York Times]
“An analysis by The New York Times found that children’s apps by other developers were also collecting data. The review of 20 children’s apps — 10 each on Google Android and Apple iOS — found examples on both platforms that sent data to tracking companies, potentially violating children’s privacy law; the iOS apps sent less data over all. These findings are consistent with those published this spring by academic researchers who analyzed nearly 6,000 free children’s Android apps. They reported that more than half of the apps, including those by Tiny Lab, shared details with outside companies in ways that may have violated the law. Although federal law doesn’t provide many digital privacy protections for adults, there are safeguards for children under 13. [...] The study this spring showed not only that more than half of children’s apps on Android were sharing tracking ID numbers but also that 5 percent collected children’s location or contact information without their parents’ permission.”
• The dangers of in-game data collection [Polygon]
“Many games, if not most, are built with systems to track how players use them. The developers can then use that information to alter storylines, change difficulty levels, and help justify new content. That data is usually isolated. For example, an XCOM game may track whether you choose between two missions. But it’s hard to deduce much about the player’s personality based on that simple decision. Where things get more precise is that, in some cases, games have been collecting more personal data. Choices that reveal things about the player’s personality, like dialogue choices or even literal personality tests, get recorded and stored. Privacy experts, and some developers, are now afraid that information can be connected to a patchwork of online services and used in suspicious ways. [...] “What happens if in 10 years you don’t get a job because the game reveals you’re not a team player?” he says. “I’ve spoken to marketing people who are really interested in getting into interactive storytelling, and the reasoning there is traditionally a lot of money tied up in it,” says Barlow.”
• Popular Apps In Google's Play Store Are Abusing Permissions And Committing Ad Fraud [Buzzfeed News]
“A host of popular Android apps from a major Chinese developer, including a selfie app with more than 50 million downloads, have been committing large-scale ad fraud and abusing user permissions, a BuzzFeed News investigation of popular Android apps has found. In several cases, the apps took steps that concealed their connections to the developer, DO Global, to users and failed to clearly disclose they were collecting and sending data to China. The investigation also raises questions about Google's policing of apps in the Play store for fraud and data collection practices. [...] The problem isn’t limited to DO Global, however. Other Android apps with a high number of unnecessary permissions identified by BuzzFeed News include a hugely popular TV remote app that says it might use a phone’s microphone to record sound while a user watches TV, a Chinese-language kids app that sent personal information without any encryption to servers in China, and a flashlight app that took dozens of unnecessary and potentially invasive permissions.”
posted by Fizz (10 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
Time to install a Pi-Hole ad/tracking blocker on my local Wi-Fi.
posted by Quackles at 1:28 PM on May 17, 2019 [3 favorites]

Time to go find that button that destroys all computers.
posted by PMdixon at 1:57 PM on May 17, 2019 [9 favorites]

All that and not having an original game idea between them.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 2:00 PM on May 17, 2019 [2 favorites]

Stuff like this and the psy-ops is why I deleted all games from my phone except for Mario Run. If my kids want to play video games they can do so on the Switch and WiiU.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 2:09 PM on May 17, 2019 [4 favorites]

To stay safe, it is recommended to stick to pirated NES ROMs in open-source emulators.
posted by acb at 2:49 PM on May 17, 2019 [10 favorites]

My young son started playing Angry Birds, and I'm trying to teach him about monetization and advertising as he plays. I'm not thrilled about this needing to be a part of his entertainment education, but it seems like if I can lay bare the ways in which games try to manipulate us it will help him understand when it's happening (and hopefully when it's happening outside of games too).

Now instead of watching the ads to be rewarded with special birds, he watches the ads because he "just likes to watch them". Well, at least there's always airplane mode.
posted by subocoyne at 3:31 PM on May 17, 2019 [3 favorites]

> To stay safe, it is recommended to stick to pirated NES ROMs in open-source emulators.

It's very difficult to find a pre-microtransaction version of Angry Birds that will run on modern mobile platforms. But Angry Birds PSP Mini will run on emulators.
posted by Phssthpok at 5:54 PM on May 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

If someone still has the Maemo package for Angry Birds, it should be possible to make it run on many other Linux-based systems relatively easily. It far predates microtransactions and IIRC only had the original paid level pack available for purchase, so it should be relatively clean.

There may have even been a desktop version on Ubuntu's early market, but that might be a false memory or me conflating it with some other game of similar age.
posted by wierdo at 10:21 PM on May 17, 2019 [2 favorites]

There's an app on the F-Droid repository called "ClassyShark3xodus" that lists all the trackers embedded in the apps on your android phone. It's a bit eye opening that even relatively trustworthy apps have like three different data miners all working away in the background.
posted by Eleven at 4:36 AM on May 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

I use a non-root firewall on my android devices. (I'll eventually become comfortable rooting phones, but I'm not there yet- probably when I take my Japanese phone back to the US and it becomes wifi only) And it's kind of frightening just how much every single fucking app you even think about installing will start calling home. I've been letting Candy Crush through because it gives me bonuses, but I think my privacy is more important than that extra bonus sticker, so back into the block list it goes.

I highly recommend that everyone have some kind of blocker on their system. As far as these apps are concerned, I've just been in airplane mode since they were installed.

(The exact one is NoRoot Firewall. Which I understand could be reporting in itself, but from what I've seen in this conversation, does not happen.)
posted by Hactar at 1:44 AM on May 19, 2019

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