Digital democracy|Digital privacy
Game on! Which mobile gaming apps are the most data-hungry?
We all love a good mobile game to keep us entertained on the go. As you run through levels, dodge obstacles, collect coins (and swear out loud on a train when you miss the mark). But have you ever stopped to wonder how much data your favorite gaming app is consuming? Well, we did the research for you!
We examined 50 of the most popular gaming apps across 60 countries to find out which ones are the most data-hungry. Note that the countries we analyzed share many of the same apps on their top 50 lists. In turn, the total number of unique apps is 510.
Leveling up your privacy: evaluating mobile gaming apps' hunger for data
We created a unique measurement system to evaluate each game's data collection habits. The system assigns a score based on the quantity and hunger of the data collected. We sourced this information directly from the app developers on the App Store. Our point system is simple:
- 1 point for data not linked to a user's identity (like app crash data);
- 2 points for data linked to a user's identity (like your name);
- 3 points for data that could potentially track you on apps and websites (like your user ID).
Moreover, according to our measurement system, the sum of the points increases by 20% if the game shares any data with third-party advertisers.
We know you might be thinking, \"Why does this matter?\" Well, with data privacy being a hot topic these days, it's important to know what types of data mobile games collect, how it is being used, and for that matter, how gamers can protect themselves when playing online.
So, without further ado, let's take a look at our findings and see which gaming app takes the crown for being the most data-hungry. Just remember, the higher the score, the more data these apps are prone to collect — and that's not always a good thing!
For more details on our research and ranking system, check out the Methodology section at the end of the article.
Let's dig into the numbers behind mobile gaming and data hungriness. Our analysis of 50 of the most popular mobile games across 60 countries found that the average data hunger index is a whopping 33.3. That's a lot of data snacking going on! But which countries have the most voracious appetite for data-hungry games?
It turns out that Canadians take the cake (or should we say cookie?) with an average data hunger index of 38, which is more than 14% higher than the total average. The other countries with the highest data-hungry game usage are Germany, Australia, Hungary, and the United States, with a data-hunger score more than 10% higher than the average.
On the flip side, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, and Vietnam have the lowest data hunger scores, with China's most popular games coming in at almost 40% less than the average.
What does this mean? Well, it seems that Asian countries tend to be on the lower end of the data hungriness spectrum compared to their Western counterparts. It's important to note that our data points were taken only from the Apple App Store, and Asian countries tend to use other operating systems, like Android¹. So, data collection practices on other platforms may differ.
App-etite for data: how hungry are your favorite mobile games?
When it comes to mobile gaming, some apps are just bigger data gluttons than others. But don't worry; we've done the hard work for you and analyzed which ones are the most data-hungry. On average, the most popular games across all countries have a data hunger index of 33.3, but that doesn't mean every app is equally voracious.
In fact, the average hunger index of all 510 apps we analyzed is just 26.9, so some apps are definitely more famished for your data than others. That said, a large portion of countries play games that are more data-hungry than the average gaming app found in our dataset.
We analyzed 10 of the most popular mobile gaming apps worldwide to see how they stack up against each other regarding privacy. Interestingly, most top-ranking gaming apps have a higher-than-average data hunger index. The average for the top 10 games is 32.6 — 21.2% higher than the average for all apps in our analysis.
As we dive into the specifics of each game's data collection and usage, keep in mind that a single data point can be used across all three privacy categories, and each usage is counted separately by our system.
The most popular game worldwide, Egg Party (蛋仔派对), published by NetEase (based in China), has a data hunger index of 35, which is 30.2% higher than the average game in our dataset. As one of the worst gaming apps for privacy, it collects 15 unique data points, including name, phone number, and precise location.
Coming in second, Roblox, published by Roblox Corporation (based in the US), has a data hunger index of 30, which is 11.6% higher than the average game in our dataset. It collects 15 data points, including search history, email address, and coarse location.
The third most popular game, Gardenscapes, published by Playrix (based in Ireland), has a data hunger index of 42, which is 56.3% higher than the average game in our dataset. It collects 10 unique data points, of which 5 are used to track the user, including emails and text messages. Notably, Gardenscapes shares some data with third-party advertisers.
The globally 10th most popular game, 8 Ball Pool™, published by Miniclip (based in Switzerland), has a data hunger index of 69.6 — 159% higher than the average game in our dataset. It collects 13 unique data points, of which 11 are used to track the user — including name, email address, and contacts. Additionally, 8 Ball Pool™ shares some data with third-party advertisers.
Subway Surfers, the 6th most popular game globally published by SYBO Games (based in Denmark), has a data hunger index of 57.6 — 114.3% higher than the average game in our dataset. It collects a total of 12 unique data points, including coarse location. Like Gardenscapes, Subway Surfers also shares some data with third-party advertisers.
Finally, Survivor.io, published by HABBY (based in Singapore), is the 8th most popular game and only has a hunger index of 10, which is 62.8% lower than the average game in our dataset.
Survivor.io demonstrates that collecting a lot of user data is unnecessary for success. It is one of three apps within the top 10 globally that have a lower-than-average data hunger index among all other apps.
Play it safe: understanding data collection in mobile gaming apps
Did you know that your favorite gaming apps might be collecting more data than you realize? Out of the 510 apps we analyzed, 6.9% of them collected user contacts, 1.4% collected health data, 7.8% collected precise locations, and 3.5% collected emails or text messages.
To break it down further, we've assigned the collected data points into two groups: behavioral data and social data. 8 out of the 32 possible data points are assigned to behavioral data, which includes purchase history, gameplay content, audio, photos or videos, browsing and search history, and product interaction. On the other hand, 6 out of 32 belong to social data, which includes names, contacts, emails, text messages, precise locations, and phone numbers.
433 (85%) of mobile games analyzed collect at least one data point that can be used to understand your behavior, while a further 347 (68%) collect at least one data point classified as social data. What's more, 327 (64%) of games collect data points from both classifications. That said, we found no games collecting any biometric data.
But don't worry; you can better understand what type of data you're giving up while gaming by categorizing the data points into groups. For instance, coarse and precise locations are grouped under Location within the App Store's privacy definitions².
It's no surprise that the top 10 most popular apps collect a lot of data, including identifiers, usage data, and diagnostics. However, some apps collect data beyond what is commonly accessed, and gaming privacy risks multiply.
Take Roblox, for example, which collects the highest variety of data categories, including a user's search history — a data point not collected by any other game in the global top 10.
The other apps in the top 10 also have their fair share of notable data points. For instance, Chess — Play & Learn collects browsing history, while 8 Ball Pool™ accesses a user's contacts.
It's important to note these data points and understand the type of information you're giving up while gaming.
Which countries produce the most data-hungry mobile games?
We crunched the numbers and found some interesting trends. Remember that to be truly confident in our findings, we only considered countries where we have data for at least 10 games.
First up, games from France take the dubious title for the highest average hunger index of 42.7 (almost 59% higher than the 26.9 average). Cyprus comes in second with 21 games averaging a hunger index of 36.7 (that's a lot of data!).
In the United Kingdom, games comprise 2.4% of all analyzed games, with an average hunger index of 35.9 (25.7% higher than the dataset's average!). And in the US, publishers are responsible for 9.4% of all analyzed apps, with an average data hunger index of 35, 22.7% higher than the average of all other games we analyzed.
On the flip side, Hong Kong’s 12 games analyzed have the lowest average hunger index of just 19.1 — 33.2% less than the total average.
Games from Turkey, totaling 11, have an average hunger index of 19.2 — 32.9% lower than the average, placing them second in the list of countries producing the least data-hungry apps.
In total, Asian countries dominate the gaming app scene, accounting for almost 40% of all analyzed apps. Publishers from China take the top spot with 77 games (that's 15.1% of all games), followed by Japan with 34 games (6.7%), and Vietnam with 29 games (5.7%). South Korea, Singapore, and Hong Kong round out the list with 24, 18, and 12 games, respectively.
Ready, set, game... safely: keep your data safe while playing mobile games
So there you have it, the data-hunger games (minus Jennifer Lawrence). Which countries will reign supreme and know us better than we’d like to let on? Only time and more data can tell.
While it's important to note that some data collection is necessary for certain game features and functionality, it's also crucial for mobile gamers to be aware of what information is being collected and how it's being used.
With this in mind, we encourage you to protect your privacy when playing mobile games, such as reviewing app permissions and limiting the amount of personal information shared.
So, next time you indulge in your favorite mobile game, remember to clickity-clack and tap-tap-tap responsibly!
Methodology and sources
We then calculated the data hunger index for every game by assigning the value from 1-3 to each data point it collects, based on how much it could potentially expose the user:
- 1 point: “Data Not Linked to a user” — data that isn’t linked to a user’s identity (such as app crash data);
- 2 points: “Data Linked to a user” — data that may be linked to a user’s identity (such as name);
- 3 points: “Data Used to Track users” — data that may be used to track users across apps and websites owned by other companies (such as User ID).
An additional 20% of the sum points were added if the company used any collected data points for “Third-Party advertising.”
Some games do not have a page on the English version of the AppStore. This meant that the data points these apps collected were noted in languages other than English and had to be translated, leaving room for potential translation errors.