Protecting children's privacy in virtual-world games: The threats of smart advertising

AuthorLesley A. Jacobs
| 63
In the everyday lives of children today, playing virtual-world games is one
of the most visible contrasts to the childhood act ivities of their parents or
grandparents. Virtua l-world games provide children with digita l spaces
for experimentation and play where they can create identities and fulll
roles that may be an authentic reection of who they really are — or a mere
invention. ey enable children to live virtual ly in one or many worlds.
Virtual worlds are “places of imagination that encompass practices of play,
performance, creativity, and ritual.” e global digital economy has cap-
italized on the market for vi rtual-world games for both children and adults.
However, unlike social networks such as Facebook, which are built on busi-
ness models that commodify di rectly the personal information, truthful or
otherwise, that users post, the economic success of virtual-world games is
not tied directly to the personal i nformation that players share in the name
of friendship or connectivity (the focus of Chapter ). is dierence has
greatly complicated the issue of privacy protection in virt ual-world games.
It is not, for example, clear which user identity — the real or the virtual
— should be protected. Moreover, in the case of children, it is dicult to
decide how much weight to give to paternalistic concerns about limiting
choices in order to protect privacy interests when children have grown up.
is chapter examines paths to civil justice for privacy rights protection
for children and youth while playing vir tual-world games. In Chapter , the
focus was on the perils of friendship in t he global digital economy where a
Tom Boellstor et al, Vir tual Worlds and Ethnography: A Handbo ok of Method (Princeton,
NJ: Princeton Universit y Press, ) at .
Privacy Rights in th e Global Digital Economy64 |
network of virtual f riendships has become a site for entrepreneurship and
commercial success. Here, the focus is on the dangers of smart advert ising.
Whatever status smart advertisers have, it is not a relationship of friend-
ship with the player of the virtual-world game. Instead of emphasizing the
importance and value of self-regulation and private consumer complaint
forums as paths to civil just ice, the argument here is that regulation of smart
advertising directed at children should be modelled on the sort of regula-
tion that already exists for e-nance.
Video games for children using digital platforms have been around since
the early s. ey dier, however, from virtua l-world games in that video
games provide environments where players can enter and interact with ob-
jects whereas virtu al worlds are all about players creating the environment.
Virtual-world games possess all t he characteristics of video games — con-
trolling avatars in an i nteractive, multi-player, D, vivid virt ual environment
— in addition to possible interactivity with t he virtual envi ronment that is
persistent and dynamic, and contains economic/consumer aspects. Jacob
Rogers argues that the most prominent dierence between virtual-world
and video games is that virtual worlds are both persistent and dynamic.
Even when a player is not in the virtual world, the vir tual environment con-
tinues to exist and change over time. It should be acknowledged, however,
that the persistence distinction between video games and virtua l worlds is
true only for video games without an onli ne multi-player feature. Call of
Duty, for example, does have an online multi-player feature. In this sense,
online video games are persistent like v irtual worlds but not dynamic.
In her book, Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How
ey Can Change the World, Jane McGonigal notes that collectively, human
beings have spent more than y billion hours — six mi llion years — playing
the virtua l-world game World of Warcra, the same amount of time we
have been evolving as a species. e number of people globally playing
virtua l-world games broke one billion in : roughly half of them were
Jacob Rogers, “A Passive Approach to Regulation of Vir tual Worlds” () : Geo
Wash L Rev .
 Gregory Lastowk a & Dan Hunter, “e Laws of the Virt ual Worlds” () : Cal L Rev
 at .
Jane McGonigal, Realit y Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Be tter and How ey Can
Change the World (New York: Penguin Pre ss, ) at .

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