Many of you will not be familiar with the term ‘Big Data’, so let me give you a crash course on the hottest potato to hit the data analytical industry since the Experian credit report. You, whoever you are or however careful you think you are, are ridiculously careless with your digital profile. Everything you look at, everything you research; everything you accidentally click on is noted, stored and more often than not sold on to the highest bidder to get a better understanding of you as a person. You may have seen recently an in depth review of Facebook’s terms and conditions, one of which is whilst signed in to Facebook, you give them permission to harvest data on your browser history. Facebook offers an amazing amount of information on you to someone who is looking to assess you as a potential customer, and big business is slowly waking up to that fact.
A while ago there was outrage that universities were looking at prospective students’ Facebook profiles when considering their applications, however what is less well known is that (just as an example) a number of payday loan companies will check your name on Facebook when you make an application. Not got one? EVERYONE’S got a Facebook so you might be a fraudster; sorry no dice. Got a profile filled with likes of pages such as ‘I love drugs’ and ‘guns don’t kill people, they’re awesome’? You might find once again that the computer says no. That doesn’t even scratch the surface of what big data is, and companies are getting creative with how they go about mining data about you.
This rather neatly leads me on to Microsoft. ‘Recommended For You!’ read the headline on my Xbox dashboard above the game Outlast, with this recommendation based on the fact that I’d played Forza 5 and Lego Marvel. Obviously this is nonsense; this is based on statistical purchase data, and when your back catalogue consists of about 5 games it will throw up bizarre reasoning just like this. What if though, it was something more than that? What if, and bear in mind that this would be entirely possible with technology readily available; Microsoft used the Kinect to pick up key words, heard me talking about the game Outlast, picked up some positive words mentioned at the same time, and targeted me as a potential customer? Supposing Sony looked at my browser history (again entirely possible) and saw that I had spent a lot of time researching the game Thief but could see it didn’t appear in my profile’s history, would it suddenly start appearing as a recommended purchase? Regardless of how positively or negatively we view a company make no mistake – businesses only live if they make money, so improving their chances of making it is always attractive.
Now I’m by no means an expert on the subject of data mining, so if I can come up with them the above examples may as well be written in crayon for a proper data analyst. What if the way you actually play games tells companies something about you? If Sony or Microsoft or even (blasphemy ahoy) Nintendo decided that they wanted to monetise the ridiculous number of hours you spend in your games and sell that data on, what would a proper data analyst determine about you?
I sat and thought about my own gaming styles and profiles, and wondered what it might say about me. I spend a lot of time playing Forza 5, and my preference is towards the higher end racing cars like the LMP1 and Formula One cars, would Sky or Eurosport be interested in that information and target me as someone likely to want to pay for their motorsport filled channel subscriptions? Would Ford be interested in the fact that I have a preference for their cars, and then start trying to entice me into a dealership? With the rumoured acceptance clauses tied in to the upcoming Infiniti car DLC that might not be as daft as you might think. What if I thought even further afield; would my car insurance company be interested to know that I struggle to handle a rear wheeled drive car in the game as my driving style is a bit too heavy footed? Or would they be comforted by the fact that I have a full steering wheel set up and the last 500 laps I’ve raced have been absolutely flawless?
I spent quite a bit of time playing FarCry 3, and I took great satisfaction in setting traps involving Tigers that would leap out and attack people. Would that potentially flag me as someone who would be sympathetic to tiger poaching charities and be likely to sign up to a donation direct debit? Or worse still might it be of interest to some of the more militant animal rights groups, as I apparently take pleasure in seeing animals laying the smack down on bad people? I really hope not, as I get enough of those through the post already. And let’s not even begin to think about your character creation preferences in The Sims, your morality based decision making in Sim City or, and many of you (myself included) may shudder at the thought of this; the amount of character profiling that could be built up on you from the hundred hours or so you have fed into Grand Theft Auto.
As I said right at the beginning of this article no matter how careful you think you are with your data, your digital profile is out there screaming at the top of its lungs things that you don’t even know about yourself to anyone who cares to listen. In many ways it’s a good thing; targeted advertising may get a bad press, but there’s certainly an argument that if there are going to be overly intrusive advertising campaigns, they may as well be for something you’re likely to be interested in. whether we like it or not that information about you exists and unless you’re prepared to give up the internet and go live in a cave, you’re going to keep adding to it. All I will say however is the next time you’re cruising in GTA and decide to shoot the hooker and get your money back, just think about who might be watching.
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Drew Pontikis is an avid gamer and writer. A fan of racing sims and first person shooters, Drew is notable for talking almost exclusively using Futurama quotes.He's usually found in front of his Xbox or his laptop, follow him on Twitter as @drew060609 Gamertag: drewski060609