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Privacy & Data

The Gamification of Privacy

On Thursday, game developer Zynga rolled out PrivacyVille, an animated version of its privacy policy, which up until now was just in plain text.   Now it’s a “game”, at least that’s the way Zynga wants you to think about it. “Playing” PrivacyVille requires no skills beyond being able to click a mouse button at the appointed time, like clicking your way through a PowerPoint presentation.
“Players” in PrivacyVille travel among topics such as passwords, advertising, sharing, storage, and security.  Each topic presents the relevant part of Zynga’s privacy policy in (gasp) easy to read sentences, complete with understandable words and phrases.  Along the way users are provided fun facts, like suggested browser add-ons intended to help with security or privacy. PrivacyVille even links to sites like NAI, that help users opt-out of behavioral advertising. CDT has supported initiatives like this on its opt-out site. Once you complete the “game” be ready for a pop quiz in which you’ll be asked to answer a series of questions based on what you’ve (supposedly) just learned about Zynga’s privacy policy.   Score high enough and you’re awarded 200 zPoints and become a Certified PrivacyVille Tour Guide.
PrivacyVille should be commended for its use of easily understood language. Research has shown that the majority of privacy policies require more than 14 years of education to understand.  Further, PrivacyVille is a quick read, taking no more than 15 minutes to complete. This is helpful because the average American Internet user would have to spend about 200 hours per year to read all the privacy policies that effect him or her.
Zynga’s clever take on user education draws heavily from its enormously popular stable of online games, such as FarmVille. This is certainly a unique approach to privacy policies, introducing a game-like quality and incentive structure. Hopefully PrivacyVille will make users more likely to read Zynga’s privacy policy; studies have shown that the majority of Internet users rarely or never read sites’ privacy policies. Moreover, users believe that the mere existence of a privacy policy means that sites will respect their privacy.
PrivacyVille is as bold as it is fresh:  the company explicitly states that it will collect users’ information and give it to third parties.  No smoke and mirrors here, what you read is what you get.  Zynga President Mark Pincus built his company on a no-holds-barred strategy aimed at quick profitability, or in his own words, doing “every horrible thing in the book to get revenues right away.”  Emphasizing the privacy angle is also a strategic move as the company ramps up for this eventual IPO.  In the company’s S-1 filing to the Security and Exchange Commission, Zynga provides an unvarnished view of the privacy landscape and the challenges it creates for a newly minted public company.
If a -Ville suffix, 200 zPoints, and the gamification of privacy are what it takes to get users to actually read privacy policies, so be it. For more information on privacy policies, see CDT’s Guide to Online Privacy, which has a section on privacy policies.