UK video games to deliver ‘geotargeted’ COVID-19 warnings to players

The UK’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has announced a partnership with a contingency of the UK’s leading video games firms to deliver in-game coronavirus warnings to players.

DCMS say that ‘geotargeting technology’ will be used to deliver ‘Stay At Home, Save Lives’ messages to players across a range of titles including Candy Crush Saga, Sniper Elite 4, DiRT Rally 2.0 and Farm Heroes.

However, the government did not disclose for what exact purpose geotargeting technology would be technically employed and whether any data retrieved as part of the procedure would be anonymised. The technology can be used by advertisers to track a data subject’s movements and deliver ads based on historic or real-time location markers.

Nor was it clear whether players would be required to give their consent for the geotargeting technology to be used. At the time of writing, DCMS has not responded to EURACTIV’s request for clarification.

Many in the industry claim that geotargeting technologies do not directly relate to any personally identifiable data set. However, should data be collected frequently, it could be possible to indirectly ascertain a data subject’s personal identity. In this vein, ‘location data’ comes under the scope of personal data as defined in Article 4(1) of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation.

The UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office refused to confirm to EURACTIV whether the DCMS had consulted them on the plans, but referred to a previous statement from the UK’s data protection watchdog which states that “data protection and electronic communication laws do not stop Government, the NHS or any other health professionals from sending public health messages to people, either by phone, text or email as these messages are not direct marketing.”

“Nor does it stop them using the latest technology to facilitate safe and speedy consultations and diagnoses. Public bodies may require additional collection and sharing of personal data to protect against serious threats to public health,” added the statement, which does not address geotargeting technologies.

On Monday, the UK’s Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden welcomed the new measures, saying he was “delighted to see the UK’s brilliant video games industry stepping up.”

For their part, the UK’s video games industry will be rolling out several new features as part of the plans.

The popular mobile game, Candy Crush Saga, published by Activision Blizzard King, will include a range of ‘Stay at Home’ messaging. And Codemasters’ DiRT Rally 2.0 will feature digital posters giving warnings for players to stay at home.

(Edited by Frédéric Simon)

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