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Data Dealer: Data Trafficking as Facebook Game

A small development team in Vienna is drawing attention to a social game that trades with data. But also the fun is coming none too soon, because with numerous privileges for real people, the players are entertained and enlightened.

von Michael Leitner

Over the last years, as a currency on the Internet, data has proved to be more reliable than gold or the dollar. Whether it is in social networks, affiliate networks or mail order companies – all are on the hunt for precise data on their customers. Although many Internet users are aware of the importance of their data, they cannot protect their data from being passed on. Also the exact mechanisms behind this are unclear to many. Understandably, it is almost impossible given the sheer number of advertiser to keep track of. But a small team from Vienna is now trying to change that with the help of an online game.

Social Game as a Wake-Up Call
A team of only four people published an online game called Data Dealer that deals with the delicate subject of personal data using humour and irony. The game is based on popular Facebook games like Mafia Wars, Farmville and Cityville. In Data Dealer, the aim of the game is to collect personal data in the most uninhibited way and on a very large scale. The game is aimed equally at adults as well as young people. Now only a few days before the entry into force of data retention, a video trailer and a demo version for the German-speaking world has been published.

"The idea arose in 2010 because again we have noticed in our personal environment that there is shockingly little knowledge about the business of personal data in the digital age", Wolfie Christl, one of the developers of the game, told futurezone.

The aim of the game: To become a "Data Mogul"
Players of "Data dealer" slip into the role of data vendors and build up their assets by trading in personal information. They use legal as well as dubious sources, get spicy details from the information black market, and operate sweepstakes, telephone surveys, Internet dating, online psychological tests, and finally, their own social Web. Gradually, the entire population, as faceless personality profiles, will be captured in a database. Similar to other social games: Together with fellow dealers, "Data Empires" can be built up to defend yourself against factors which may disrupt your image as grassroots initiatives, critical media, or annoying authorized privacy officers.

The games makers do not keep back with sideswipes to the Austrian prominence. For promotional purposes for example, you could hire a former race car driver with cap or a builder. On the information black market the data dealer uses a “Dr. Ernst Krasser”, who supposedly knows "the important people in the State". The games makers have done research over many months, so that most of the actors and scenes from the game have definable role models. Some of them are listed on a multiple-page document which is also available online.

Fun - Despite a Serious Theme
The game should not only be a classic "serious game" that wants to educate players at the expense of entertainment, but should also be fun. Wolfie Christ tells futurezone: "With the trick of the change of perspective we want to reach precisely those young people and adults, who usually start yawning when the subject comes to data protection." We have no recipes, but find that people should at least know a little better as to what can be done with their personal data today. "And this is perhaps better with wit and irony."

Open and Critical
In contrast to most of the usual Facebook games, data dealer works without Flash and relies on HTML5, so it works on all modern platforms. In addition, the project has no commercial background and is available under the Creative Commons license. Beside startup financing through the "Internet Foundation Austria" in the context of the "netidee", “data dealer” was made possible primarily because of the high personal commitment of the team. According to Christl, data dealer is not a start-up company, but much more the "result of a year of critical debate about Internet culture and digital life."

Expensive, but Nevertheless for Free
From the idea to the research, up to the demo version, the team has so far put 3000 hours into the project - but the game will be free of charge. "We have been working for many years with free software therefore this approach also for this project was obvious." That the game can be played for free is anyway a matter of course in browser games on Facebook ", explains Christl to the futurezone.

The small budget may not create competition for the team with billions of games companies such as Zynga and, is therefore, dependent on the support of interested Internet users and potential investors. The project should still be continuously further developed and published internationally in the course of the year. A specific start date for the full version has not yet been determined, however.

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