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Serious Gaming with Data Privacy: DataDealer

datadealer 2What if we were to turn the tables and have the consumer managing the privacy of other people and organizations? There’s a new game in the emerging “serious gaming” genre out that does just that. DataDealer has received extensive feedback from young people, teachers, media educators and the general public. Further, it has won numerous prizes like the e-virtouses Serious Games Award 2013 (France) and the Games for Change Award 2013 (USA).  Wolfie Christl, co-creator, and his project have been featured in the New York Times, Forbes, The New Yorker, and the Washington Post among many other outlets. In this interview, let’s take a closer look at the message DataDealer intends about data governance.

Eric J. Henderson, Markets For Good (Eric): You note in your research that, on the individual level, the objective of the game is to strengthen digital competence as the only means of “positive and self-determined use of ICT in the future.” In your estimation, how big is our gap in digital competence?

Wolfie Christl, DataDealer (Wolfie): Most of us know that today virtually everything we do is recorded, monitored or tracked in some way: Our web searches, our emails, our phone calls, the places we visit, who we know, how long we work, our financial situation, our consumer behaviour, our political attitudes and much more. We know about it because we´re actively sharing much of this information intentionally. We all know that many devices we use today are connected to the Internet.

But I fear that many people don´t know so much about are the possible implications of this massive aggregation, processing and exploitation of personal data, which has become part of all areas of life. They don´t know so much about the potential and the value of their personal data, when they agree to send every single click to some server farms at the other end of the world.

Eric: What surprised you over the course of the developing the game – about both consumer and organizational behavior?

Wolfie: During the development of “Data Dealer” we always tried to invent new, super-evil business models based on personal data to build it into our game. But the problem was, whenever when we thought we had come up with something really scary,  we found out that it was already in practice! Take for example all these devices and apps to track your weight, the steps you do, your heart rate, your sleep quality or even your mood.

In the full version of our game you´ll be able to run such a company to collect body and health data about millions of people and directly sell it to health insurance companies. I didn´t believe that this is already existing, I thought this is a kind of dystopic idea. But after doing some research I saw that two of the most popular self tracking apps are publicly offering their services to…surprise: health insurance companies. This is a gold mine. There’s even a California startup that plans to create a platform for genetic data brokerage. Upload your DNA, get some shady health predictions and allow them to market your genetic profile. Great!

Eric: You´ve taken the unique approach of casting the player (the consumer) as data broker. Considering that we most often hold these conversations in terms of the consumer being acted upon (not directing the action), tell us about the origin of that strategy and what you’ve learned from it.

Wolfie: We’ve been involved with digital literacy and the sociocultural impact of ICT for a long time, also with issues of surveillance and privacy. During the rise of the so called social web and other business models based on personal data I experienced that many people are handling these services in a totally willingly and euphoric way. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not anti-technology, far from it. I love digital technologies.

But at the same time nobody knows where all our personal information will end up and what the long-term implications of omnipresent digital tracking could be. Moreover most people are completely bored of all that preaching on what to be careful about when using social networks or smartphones — children and teenagers especially.

That’s why we came up with the idea to create a casual and fun game where players take on the role of bad guy and collect and sell data themselves. I believe our approach could enable users to better understand important questions like: What kinds of personal data exist? Who is collecting this data and why? And what could that mean for me and for a future society?

We’ve earned outstanding positive feedback for our approach from all over the world. “Data Dealer” is actually a low-budget project; we’re currently working on partnerships with organizations, foundations or companies to enable us to operate and extend our serious game project in the medium term.

Eric: Implicit in social sector work is a fiduciary responsibility to which many people, rightly or wrongly, will accord a higher standard for data governance. What are your thoughts on the social sector?

Wolfie: Many nonprofit organizations are handling digital privacy not in a responsible way. Far from it. The way I see it the nonprofit sector – and also political parties – are in many respects the vanguard against commercial digital tracking. There are big organizations that buy data from consumer data agencies, build up their CRM databases and collect every single bit they can get about their target audiences – no matter how.

Sure, social sector organizations need to reach their audiences for advocacy and fundraising. But not at any cost. Most organizations have implemented standards in areas like transparency, anti-discrimination, working conditions or ecology. I think they should urgently also start working on ethical guidelines for their handling of personal data.

Eric: Thank you, Wolfie, for your time.



Data Dealer –

TEDxVienna 2012: Wolfie Christl – How to gamify personal data (business)

Collecting, Collating, and Selling Personal Data. Report (2013) –


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