These days, few things about you are secret: age, income, debt, driving history, sexual preferences, interests, politics, medical history, likes, dislikes, friends—you name it. Everything you do online, tap into your phone, or communicate with companies, or government agencies. Most of it is part of someone’s minutely managed data-farm somewhere, whirring away in the background, without anyone, it seems, paying much attention.
The point of Data Dealer—a fun online game with a serious message—is to dramatize this strange situation, and get us to ask some questions. Who has the data? Does it matter that they have it? And what are the risks, both to us, and to society? What the hell is this data-driven future we’re creating?
Data Dealer, which was created in Austria, looks like FarmVille, Zinga’s giant Facebook game. But, rather than a happy world of ducks and Enchanted Glens, it presents a dystopian place, full of crooks and snakes. Your goal, if you choose to accept it, is to amass as much data as you can on as many people as possible. Then you can set up businesses like dating sites and personality testing services. And then, as you acquire even more data, you can start selling it—to insurance companies, health care providers, and human resources departments (among others).
The game is realistic, to a point. As well as the standard cast of characters, there are also a few shady underworld types (that presumably legitimate companies don’t associate with). And some of the names have been changed slightly; for example, the world’s most successful social network is now called "Tracebook."
To win, you have to be able to form alliances with other players, know when to buy testimonials (a character that looks like Donald Trump is available), and fend off companies that are prepared to hack your databases. You also have to be canny around complaintful citizens, nagging journalists, and privacy campaigners.
Data Dealer was created by Ivan Averintsev, Wolfie Christl, Pascale Osterwalder, and Ralf Traunsteiner, and has been funded by the Austrian government (which seems to care more about data privacy than ours does). They brought out a German demo last year, and have just launched an English version (play it here). The full game should be ready in the next few months, they say.
Christl, who gave a TED talk in Vienna last year, says 50,000 people have played it so far.