PS4, gaming & the new privacy reality

Privacy is social now – thinking about what we share with both fellow users and providers needs to be just as reflexive as our use of technology is.

By Anne Collier

One thing we all need to teach our kids now is that the privacy spectrum we really need to be aware of isn’t so much private-to-public as private-to-convenient – or, from kids’ perspective, private-to-social (or just to-spontaneous-&-fun). The more convenience we want (e.g., not bothering with password-protecting our phones or giving services all kinds of access to our movements so they can tailor the experience they provide to our interests), the less privacy we have. We have to choose the level of convenience (or spontaneity) we want and know that, as we move the needle further to the convenient end of the spectrum, we’re losing some degree of privacy. Where kids are concerned, each family needs to figure out the degree of privacy and convenience that’s right for him/her/it!

Take Sony’s PlayStation 4, for example. It “will get to know you by understanding your personal preferences and the preferences of your community and turn this knowledge into useful information that will help to enhance future game play,” said Sony’s David Perry at a press conference my ConnectSafely co-director Larry Magid attended. So for example, “like when your friends purchase a new game, you’ll know immediately so you can join into the action,” Larry quotes him as saying at That puts social gaming on steroids and could be really fun – gamers won’t even have to “wait” to text friends to see if they’re already in-game. What’s more, Sony’s connecting Facebook into the mix, so PS4 will know even more about players and their friends (if PS4 players are on Facebook – this might be reason to support the migration of kids’ socializing to mobile apps not connected to FB).

The product is your kid’s network

In fact, says Sean Captain at, the PS4 “is not so much a machine as a network – with games delivered from the cloud, games that can follow you as you move from the PS4 to a mobile device, and the ability to post video clips of your adventures, or even broadcast entire games online.” So you see what he’s saying, right? If parents are thinking about privacy around cellphone cams and/or privacy vis. Webcams (a whole lot of high schools students I know do homework together from their respective homes using Skype and their Webcams), they also need to be talking with videogamers about real-time gaming video.

Perry told reporters that “your friends can actually look over your shoulder virtually and interact with you while you’re playing [of course they’ve been doing that in person for a long time]; and if you allow them, your friends can also post comments to your screen; you can solicit support from them, or you can just trash-talk with them.” And of course there are screenshots and “machinima” (video of what’s happening on the screen). Larry wrote that PS4 “will also enable users to capture video (as well as still shots) from the game experience and share that with others on the network.”

2 kinds of privacy

Which says that are two kinds of privacy everybody needs to think about:

1. What we share on screen and in chat with fellow gamers, users, socializers, etc. and…
2. What we share with the providers of the games, apps, sites, and devices

That’s stating the obvious, but thinking about who receives what we share needs to become as embedded in everyday life as our technology is – the way thinking about audience is reflexive to writers, speakers and broadcasters.

Parenting from the inside out

It would be exhausting and probably fruitless for parents to try a whack-a-mole approach to dealing with the constant of tech development. Better to work from the inside out. Instead of trying to deal with each new “mole” that pops up, start with what privacy and safety looks like for “our family” and each member of it. Just as in all things offline, privacy and safety have a whole lot to do with basic values most families have: respect for self and others, including for people’s feelings, identity, data, property, and reputation. Together work out how best to protect those as individuals and as a family. What behaviors and settings do we need, where gaming, social networking, phone use, and face-to-face interaction are concerned?

Privacy is social too

When kids want a new device, app, game, or whatever, have them do their homework on how they can use it constructively – what it does with users’ information, what privacy protections it offers, and how to set privacy features so that their and their family’s and friends’ data and equipment are secure and relationships stay positive. This is part of the new media literacy that folds in digital literacy and social literacy too – the kind that turns everybody involved into a stakeholder in the well-being of all involved.

Privacy in user-driven, social media and technology is an evolving opportunity for parent-child communication and mutual respect – as well as an evolving parenting challenge. Lots of perspectives are needed, especially our kids’. I always welcome yours. What advice would you add for family and kid privacy protection? Please email or comment below.

Related links

* Larry’s “Privacy Primer” at
* “Details, context on Rounds, Vine & other video-sharing apps”
*Keeping One Step Ahead of Kids in a Mobile World,” by Monica Vila
* In 2010, I wrote: “Social Web privacy: A new kind of social contract we’re all signed onto”

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