Is there a borderline creepy use of facial recognition technology in games or is there a new great advancement in parental controls?
Tencent Games is a Chinese conglomerate that owns the most popular games of the day, but those games might soon be playing us.
Tencent has announced that facial recognition would be added to games to identify underage gamers who are gaming late at night. It's a move that has profound implications for young gamers' safety and privacy.
According to Tencent's calendar, school children were restricted to playing just 14 hours over the four-week winter school break this year.
From August 2021, the Chinese state agency National Press and Publication Administration (NPPA) has announced that online game providers may only offer one-hour time slots to minors on Fridays, weekends, and official holidays. What would they do to enforce the curfew? Using facial recognition.
Tencent has won licenses to distribute five imported games, including Pokémon Unite by Nintendo and Valorant by Riot Games.
The new permits may indicate that Beijing is loosing some of its restrictions on the gaming industry.
Tencent Games Detect Minors In-Game by Facial Recognition
As more and more children spend excessive amounts of time in games, the feature is available in China, but it might soon be introduced in other countries, as more privacy sacrifices are made.
The 'Midnight Patrol' from Tencent Games seems to be a good idea on paper, but it takes on a dangerous tone if you look at it further. According to the company, it's a way to discourage children and adolescents from spending too much time online and gaming late at night.
The system has been used since 2018, and its success now implies it will be used in over 60 games.
Honor of Kings was the first game to make use of this facial recognition technology, based on other games like League of Legends.
"This test is an extension of Tencent's existing Youth Guardian platform, which allows parents to monitor gameplay time and utilizes facial recognition, but it goes a step further by comparing user images with government photo records.
According to one expert, this type of technology will likely have limitations, especially for younger children who go through a lot of facial changes as they grow.
In fact, facial recognition technology, as we explained in our extensive biometrics overview, comes with a lot of obstacles and may be less secure than you'd expect.
Nonetheless, the present limitations of this technology keep authorities or private corporations from using facial recognition on children.
One New York school district implemented a facial recognition system to track "level 2 or 3 sex offenders, students who have been suspended from school, staff who have been suspended or are on administrative leave, and any persons that have been informed that they may not be permitted to enter District property due to a court order..."
The results and impact of that one test in a single district were limited.
26 lawmakers are misidentified as criminals by a facial recognition system.
Parental Controls in Games: A Way to Reduce Gaming Addiction or a Slippery Slope Leading to Surveillance?
If the adults of the household decide to use these new parental control methods, perhaps millions of children will have to give up their biometric data as a result of Tencent Games' Midnight Patrol.
In the past few years, China has begun cracking down on the gaming industry and imposing more restrictions.
Between 10 and 8 a.m., children are prohibited from playing video games, and must register on game platforms using their real name. In-game purchases are prohibited.
The World Health Organization has declared video game addiction to be an official illness.
The gaming-addiction epidemic may appear to be a media-generated scenario designed to feed the outrage machine, but there are still some unanswered questions.
Too much screen time may induce near-sightedness or worsen an existing myopia condition, and in China, the number of people suffering from it is increasing.
According to a 2015 survey, 500 million Chinese people have visual impairment, with nearly half of the population aged five to eight years old.
It's easy to see why some might welcome the Tencent facial recognition system to help combat minor gamers' gaming addiction, which has been dubbed "poison" and "drug."
Does this scream a Black Mirror scenario to you? It should.
Another Black Mirror scenario involves parental controls in the game.
We saw a single mother patrol the location of her daughter in the second episode of Black Mirror's fourth season, in which she attempted to silence disturbing information.
Arkangel reimagines parenting as a "guardian angel" and transforms it into a disturbing example of helicopter parenting... and the consequences it has for each family member.
California has blocked a facial recognition law.
You should watch (or rewatch) this episode before turning on the webcam on your kids just to make sure they don't spend too much time in Fortnite. Then, consider these questions and ask yourself - "Who watches the watchmen?"
Every online business measures every move a user makes, but there is little oversight of what those companies do with the data they collect.
Tencent Games is an excellent example of a lack of privacy policies, something which we'll cover later, but they're not the only ones doing this.
Is it really a good idea to allow a gaming company to monitor and control how your child plays?
The whole gaming industry is based on a predatory strategy, with games designed to be as engaging and addictive as possible (remember loot boxes?) on the front end, and data-syphoning systems on the back.
Collecting data from within the game
Candy Crush and Angry Birds games were the first games to collect in-game data, and now game manufacturers have access to even more user data and behavior.
"But people should be concerned." The technicalities of gameplay data can reveal a great deal about what makes people tick and what's going on with them, as shown by studies. [...]
According to a Vox report investigating how Angry Birds in-game data collection works...and that developers are breaking the law.
Children under the age of 13 are not allowed to be tracked by advertisers under the law known as the COPPA, which was passed in 1998. Those who are in the minority may be prohibited from assigning any sort of "persistent identifier" to children, and advertisers may only store their personal information without parental authorization.
Another report from Polygon, a well-known gaming company, discusses how data gathering in games works and how it may be promoted.
The report begins off with a good hook about a game data seller. Nick Yee is the founder of a survey business that sells his findings to most of the gaming industry's top companies, including Tencent.
Yee's data is collected via voluntary questionnaires, which are then anonymized. This is a well-known, although antiquated marketing strategy.
Other firms prefer farming gamer data while they are playing, which, as you know by now, is all the rage in marketing. User data is the new gold, and entire industries have sprung around it, including the gaming industry, more so than others.
It's called "game telemetry" here.
Is game telemetry a form of surveillance?
This involves the gathering, analysis, and reporting of user data and behavior, so that game designers may modify it and enhance it to keep players engaged longer.
Consider another factor: why is video gaming so addictive?
"It's a new trend that has the potential for a wide-scale and long-term impact on education," says the author, "games may provide insights into pupils' cognitive states."
According to a research on game telemetry, players may vary from fine-grained, moment-to-moment play behaviors to detailed game behavior.
To make games more addictive, in-game data collecting is used for two purposes.
This is a warning issued by privacy experts, as well as by game designers.
"The privacy aspect of life isn't that enticing," says the author. The danger is that it becomes a weaponized addiction, or that you develop a game that manipulates someone's physiology and dopamine responses with content.
"Imagine micro-targeted cigarettes that might put the nicotine right in your fingers the moment you're feeling the most vulnerable," said Alex Champandard, a prolific game designer.
The game may offer him content that will interest him to engage in more activities, content that makes him crave another soda, or content that makes him susceptible to reaching for his parents' credit card to pay for an in-game purchase.
Imagine that every second your kid plays a video game, and that technology will be used, as well as real-time analytics in all games.
To get an idea of what PlayFab, a Microsoft-owned platform, has to offer, click here.
Is Tencent Games Using Your Email to Dwell?
Examine these incidents, and then consider whether it makes sense to allow your children to use facial recognition.
Tencent was accused by privacy authorities in January this year after it was discovered to be able to scrape web browser history using its popular QQ Messenger, searching for keywords and storing information it collected.
After a survey by the University of Toronto's CitizenLab, it was discovered that the QQ Browser, a similar Tencent offering, sends personal information back to Tencent regularly unencrypted.
Tencent's methods of making their products are obvious. Their games are also used in this manner.
Tencent Games' parental controls are certainly helpful at a surface level. A kid who sneaks during the night and spends hours in a video game
If Tencent Games does such a lot with in-game data, which is just a series of numbers and small decisions, what would they do if they saw every micro-expression on your kid's face?
Yes, these new parental controls should be turned on if that question does not make you frown.
The Facial Recognition System of the London Police Force Is Worse 81% of the Time
*The article was initially published on July 27, 2021, but was later updated on June 22, 2022 with new information.