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Wall Street Journal Examines  Angry Birds, Bejeweled  In iPhone Privacy Report

Wall Street Journal Examines Angry Birds, Bejeweled In iPhone Privacy Report

December 20, 2010 | By Leigh Alexander

December 20, 2010 | By Leigh Alexander
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Persistent, connected entertainment has become ubiquitous across mobile and social platforms, and that's raising questions for many users about the security of their online identity. A new Wall Street Journal report is causing some trouble for Angry Birds developer Rovio and Bejeweled house PopCap -- claiming the games share users' personal data with third parties.

The report looked at iPhone apps including games like Angry Birds, Bejeweled 2 and Doodle Jump as well as other products, like TweetDeck's Twitter interface, Yelp and YouTube, and evaluated them on whether they transmit information about the people playing them, including differentiating between transmission to the app's owner and transmission to a third party, such as a marketer.

From there, the publication sorted its findings into an infographic that broke out the specific types of data it claims the companies transmit: A phone's ID, the user's location, age and gender, the user's contacts or even the user's own phone number.

According to the WSJ's chart, Angry Birds was the most serious privacy violator it examined, alleged to be transmitting the most types of information to third parties. Its profile of Bejeweled 2 accused PopCap of sending phone numbers to third parties, too.

In a statement to UK trade site Develop, Rovio strongly denied it was in violation of Apple's rules or that it used the data in any way that put the privacy of an individual at risk, complaining of user "mistrust" that could be generated due to the vagueness of the WSJ's report.

Rovio said the two third parties to which it sends data are the Crystal social gaming platform and Flurry, which it uses for its own analytics -- statistics about its players it uses to understand its user base. It says neither of those companies stores data, and both only display aggregate statistics, not private details of individual users.

But the WSJ's report sheds light on how increasingly concerned users are about privacy in social games. A realtime poll on the website invites users to vote, and 66.6 percent of the respondents, or about 3138 users (as of press time), say that apps should notify users "every time" they collect and transmit data. 23.4 percent replied "only when I first install the app," 8.6 percent say "only if sending data to other companies,"and only 1.4 percent said "this doesn't bother me."

A Wall Street Journal report was also responsible for uncovering privacy breaches among Facebook games, discovering that many developers allowed, intentionally or otherwise, third parties to access the personal data of their players. Facebook followed up with a punishment, banning violators -- including Ravenwood Fair developer LOLapps -- from using the social network's crucial viral channels for six months.

Gamasutra has contacted the relevant parties in this story and will update with any comment we receive.


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