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Dangers of mobile gaming in the UK

Gaming has become one of the most common ways for kids to spend money online due to its vast popularity. Although many gaming apps are free to download and use, they include premium features that players need to pay for. It’s also important to keep in mind that free apps don’t ask you to pay to play; instead they collect your (or you child’s) personal information and sell it to third-party companies.

Kids spend in-app cash to enhance their gameplay or their player’s character most of the time, according to the Internet Matters study. Not to mention, gaming is used as a social space for many youngsters to make friends and talk about their personal matters.

According to the Internet Matters “Parenting Generation Game” survey done in the UK:

  • 1 out of 2 parents worry about their child’s personal data being collected by online games.
  • 2 out of 5 parents worry about the amount of advertising their child is exposed to when playing mobile games.
  • 1 out of 4 parents worry about how much money their child spends on in-game purchases. In some cases, children run up a £2,400 Roblox gaming bill for in-app purchases.

To add to the conversation, parents may become concerned with the games that their children play as the age rating changes.

A survey from the “Parenting Generation Game” states, “Taste in games changes gradually as children get older. Younger children tend to play puzzle games that have a time span (e.g. Candy Crush, Angry Birds) and single player games (e.g. Pokémon). However as they get older, they opt for collaborative and competitive multiplayer and online games (e.g. Minecraft, Fortnite and Call of Duty).”

Comparison of most popular games among 6-10 year-old children in the UK

Comparison of most popular games among 6-10 year-old children in the UK
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This image is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 International License - https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/

Minecraft is the most popular app among UK children ages 6 to 10, with more than half a million children of that age playing it, followed by Angry Birds with less than half a million players.

In-app purchases are available in Minecraft and Angry Birds, as well as all the other analyzed mobile games, allowing kids to buy extra coins or capabilities.

Call of Duty, a game involving more violence and frightening elements, is liked by many children. Yet, it has a 17+ rating, but is used by 0.1M 6-10 year olds exposing them to violence and fear factors. Furthermore, Call of Duty has “Limited time offer” purchases that may entice children to buy it out of fear of missing out.

However, kids are not only spending money on games with higher age rating and violence involved.Fifa, a seemingly innocent game that has an age rating of 3+, with no violence or frightening elements, has in-app purchases as high as $100!

Now, it’s important to take into account that 1 out of 2 parents worry about their children’s data being collected by online games. Our analysis below shows that this issue is much more serious than expected. Let’s take a look at the numbers.

Most popular gaming apps and the data they collect from children

Most popular gaming apps and the data they collect from children
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This image is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 International License - https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/

Data exposure levels explained:

  • Data Used to Track Your Child - This data may be used to track your child across apps and websites owned by other companies.
  • Data Linked to Your Child - This data may be collected and linked to your child’s identity.
  • Data Not Linked to Your Child - This data may be collected but is not linked to your child’s identity.

Often, apps use collected data for various purposes and across various levels of exposure. Thus less collected data points does not always mean that apps are less privacy-invasive.

Data collection statistics:

  • 7 out of 9 mobile gaming apps (all of the analyzed apps besides Minecraft and Roblox) use your child’s data for third-party advertising purposes. Minecraft and Roblox are the safer choice when trying to avoid third-party ads in your child’s app experience. However, both of these apps still use data for their own advertising or marketing purposes, meaning that there still might be some ads in the game for children to buy loot boxes.
  • 4 out of 9 games (Call of Duty, Crossy Roads, Candy Crush, and Angry Birds) use your child’s location information for third-party advertising purposes. This might involve sharing data with other entities that display third-party ads.
  • 4 out of 9 games (Roblox, Candy Crush, Pokemon, and Call of Duty) collect your child’s contact information. Contact information includes information such as name, email address, phone number, and physical address.
  • 2 out of 9 games (Candy Crush (4+ age rating) and Call of Duty) collect both the name and email address. Moreover, Candy Crush, Call of Duty, and Pokemon collect photos or videos from your child’s app.
  • 2 out of 9 games (Candy crush (4+ age rating) and Call of Duty) use 10 out of 16 collected data points to track your child. These two games are considered to be the most privacy-intrusive gaming apps that were analyzed in this study.

Overview

When it comes to privacy and the games your child plays, it may be difficult to protect them from data collection and constant ads. However, by teaching them the importance of not spending any money on games for the sake of showing off or upgrading their players, will impact their choices significantly.

Methodology

The data for this study came from an open-source Internet Matters “Parenting Generation Game” study, which looked at the gaming behaviors of children at different age groups. We compared data collection practices of the most popular gaming apps accessible on the Apple Store for children ages 6-10 in the (note that apps from the Google Play Store may have different privacy settings).

This study took into account the following game-related factors: data privacy in the sense of children data exposure and usage for marketing purposes, in-app purchase features, violence and fear factors, and age rating.

The number of 6-10 year-old children in the UK who play games on mobile devices was calculated by multiplying the total number of children of that age in the UK by the ratio of kids who play a specific game and use a mobile device for gaming.

Sources