Google is profiling online gamers
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Google has filed a patent in Europe and in US on a profiling technology planning to create psychological profiles of web users based on their behaviour at playing on-line games. The company thinks it can gather up information to shape the personality of web users according to the way they react and take decisions while playing online and then sell these psychological profiles to advertisers.
The patent says: "User dialogue (e.g. from role playing games, simulation games, etc) may be used to characterize the user (e.g. literate, profane, blunt or polite, quiet etc). Also, user play may be used to characterize the user (e.g. cautious, risk-taker, aggressive, non-confrontational, stealthy, honest, cooperative, uncooperative, etc)."
On the basis of these profiles, adverts inside online games could be shaped to address the people's interests, tastes and tendencies. Adverts that appear inside the game could thus be more "relevant to the user", Google says.
The patent says that information from previously saved games could be accessed from memory cards. "Such saved information may be thought of state information, and offers a valuable source of information to the advertisers" and also that Google could also monitor people playing on any game console that connects to the internet, including the Sony PlayStation, Nintendo Wii and Microsoft's Xbox.
These plans have created concerns for privacy campaigners, who consider that the implications of compiling and storing such detailed information are "alarming".
Sue Charman the Open Rights Group said: "I can understand why they are interested in this, but I would be deeply disturbed by a company holding a psychological profile. Whenever you have large amounts of information it becomes attractive to people - we've already seen the American federal government going to court over data from companies including Google."
The patent gives alarming examples of the invasive type of approach the advertisers could use, such as: "In a car racing game, after a user crashes his Honda Civic, an announcer could be used to advertise by saying 'if he had a Hummer, he would have gotten the better of that altercation', etc. If the user has been playing for over two hours continuously, the system may display ads for Pizza Hut, Coke, coffee."
The experts say that although such scanning is already done by some web companies that use keywords for online advertising based on basic attributes, such kind of complete profiles viewed by the Google patent would go much further in combining information sources to put names and addresses to the anonymous profiles.
Google stated to The Guardian that it had no plan in the next future regarding this patent and that this was only one of the large number of patents filed during the last months by the company. "Google registers different patents irrespective of whether we actually intend to use them" was Google spokesman's statement.
Google may use games to analyse net users (12.05.2007)
Google Patents Gamer Profiling Technology (14.05.2007)
Google Plans to Secretly Track Your Online Gaming (12.05.2007)
Google's online gaming patent alarms privacy advocates (14.05.2007)