Can A Game Get People Interested In Data Collection?

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Hail, internet user! Well met. You are aware, though dimly, that your behavior online can be collected. You are aware, even more dimly still, that this behavior over time constitutes something called “user data,” and that it can be bought and sold en masse, or snooped on by the government.

You are an average internet user; you are of average intelligence; you are of average curiosity. What you really need to understand the murky networks of data collection and sale is something visually pleasing and behaviorally compelling: a game!

That, anyway, is the idea behind Data Dealer, the “online game about collecting and selling personal data,” built by a small team based in Austria. In it, you are a data-collection agency, which pays for data from sources both legitimate (dating sites, social networks, online sweepstakes, those ubiquitous personality tests) and non (for example, a Department of Education higher-up who is in debt and looking for some extra cash), and sells it to whichever organizations are willing to pay, from health insurers to giant retailers to real estate conglomerates.

As a primer in the basic pathway and financial incentives behind the booming data industry, Data Dealer is a gem. The creators call it “a bastard offspring of certain shiny 2010 Facebook Games and the 1990 TV simulation game Mad TV, reborn with the souls of South Park and Bruce Schneier.” To my mind, its combination of a social agenda, a bright cartoony style, and a delightful cynicism calls to mind a previous generation’s go-to source for distilling complex issues into a palatable format: Doonesbury.

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