Spoiler alert: The government may always be watching you. If you’ve grown up viewing weekly reruns of “The X-Files,” it may shock you to realize that Agent Mulder was right: The government can see what you watch, what you buy, where you live and what you play.
Former National Security Agency contractor Edward J. Snowden recently disclosed documents to the Guardian that gave a detailed (and somewhat disturbing) history of the agency's surveillance on gaming activities. The NSA documents stated that British and American intelligence organizations forcibly spied on online activity through Xbox Live, the virtual world “Second Life” and the popular MMO “World of Warcraft” since 2006. 2006. That means the government has been monitoring your eight-hour long “Halo” sessions for seven years, even before Jim and Pam even got together.
The leaked documents admitted that the agencies not only infiltrated specific online games, but actually created individual mobile games specifically for the purpose of gathering data about players. According to the New York Times, the Pentagon’s Special Operations Command built mobile games that were used as “vehicles for intelligence agencies to collect information about the users.” The article also gave a history of the seven years that multiple U.S. and international government agencies have surveyed gamers’ activities. The agencies saw online gaming as a convenient way for criminals and terrorists to communicate with one another in a private manner. They also felt that an online forum could be a “target rich communication network.”
The NSA also spied on Facebook, Google, Yahoo and Twitter activity with the help of intelligence system PRISM, a software program used to examine data like emails, videos and online chats. Industry experts predict the tech mega giants could lose billions of dollars over the next several years if clients and consumers decide to employ alternative services. Many Internet companies are alerting Congress of this possibility, calling for President Obama to take another look at the government's surveillance activities.
This means that millions of players and internet users are victims of unwanted scrutiny. At its peak in 2010, “World of Warcraft” had more than 12 million players. The MMORPG currently has around 7 subscribers. “Second Life,” which was created in 2003, has amassed more than 36 million registered users.
Representatives from Blizzard stated they did not give permission for anyone to use “World of Warcraft” as a method of surveillance. Microsoft and “Second Life” did not comment.
How much is the government monitoring your online gaming activity? With the recent launches of the PS4 and Xbox One, it will be easier than ever for the government to closely observe your TV watching, the movies you enjoy and whom you’re interacting with online. Can you really trust the innovative technology behind next-gen consoles? Is it naive to think that your console isn’t relaying information to a third party source without your permission or knowledge? Do you believe your privacy is truly being protected when you log into your system? Give us your thoughts in the comments section below.