PS4 socials all the gaming, says Sony; but why?

PS4 socials all the gaming, says Sony; but why?

Summary: With PlayStation 4, Sony joins the cavalcade of companies sacrificing your privacy to replace the profits lost thanks to plummeting hardware prices. Fun, but at what cost?

TOPICS: Privacy

Amongst all the pizzazz, pretention, and polygons of today's PlayStation4 plugfest sat something slightly sinister: Social. Sony's new console will be "seamlessly interconnected" with your social life, said Mark Cerny, PS4's lead system architect, with such features as the ability to stream video of your gameplay for others to watch. Interaction will generally involve players' real names and profile pictures, except "when anonymity is important". Who decides that is unclear.

It's easy to see why Sony is doing this. "Social all the things" is the current orthodoxy for ... everything, really.

Social media and then social networks resulted in a bunch of multibillion-dollar companies — plus ten thousand bunches of complete failures, of course, but don't mention them because it'd spoil the narrative. So if the buzzword "social" worked for YouTube and Facebook, we can all be billionaires by socialing everything else, right? Therefore, social travel, social TV, social banking, and all the rest.

Now in many cases, "social" means little more than pushing out information about what you're doing to Facebook and Twitter in exchange for basic authentication mechanisms and a "Like" button. When it's done that way, Facebook and Twitter win.

Gaming is already social, though, so giving players some tools to find like-minded individuals for more group polygon fun is a plus for Sony. The real price of hardware is constantly falling, at least once it's out of the initial extort-the-gullible period, so the absolute value of profit margins falls too. Social adds another revenue stream in and of itself, more player-friends per player means more gaming time, and it all adds up.

But Sony's approach started to sound creepy when Cerny said that PS4 can "can get to know you, and bring you closer to the game and other experiences". What other experiences are these, exactly? And apparently, "if we know enough about you", then Sony can figure out what games you want and they "can be loaded and ready to go before you even click the button".

So at one level, Sony has decided that on PlayStation Network, we'll reveal our identities. Search Twitter to see how many women (and men) thought that was a good idea, given gaming's [cough] female-supportive culture. Remember when Google announced that Google+ would demand real names?

At another level, Sony has decided that PlayStation will become part of what I've called "the great Facebook experiment". And that's the elephant in the room.

Over the years, core principles for handling personal information responsibly have been established. Here in Australia, they've been codified as the National Privacy Principles (NPP). The first is that you don't collect data unless you need it to deliver the service. The second is that you don't use or disclose that information for some secondary purpose without permission.

Last week, much was made of Google Play sending personal details to app developers. Sure, Google should anonymise the email addresses. But merchants all over the web get much more information about you all the time because the credit card companies demand it — so that information has to be collected to deliver the service.

What Sony and every other "social" company is doing is different. They're redefining the service to include the mapping of your social network. Suddenly, much more information is needed for this primary purpose, and it can be made non-optional.

NPP number four is about data security for all this personal information. Well, hasn't Sony got a grand track record there — and now they want to store even more.

Topic: Privacy


Stilgherrian is a freelance journalist, commentator and podcaster interested in big-picture internet issues, especially security, cybercrime and hoovering up bulldust.

He studied computing science and linguistics before a wide-ranging media career and a stint at running an IT business. He can write iptables firewall rules, set a rabbit trap, clear a jam in an IBM model 026 card punch and mix a mean whiskey sour.

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  • Sony is a bad company at the core

    Regardless of what you may think about Sony as a company that makes innovative products, it is one that has long disrespected its customer base. From the 1970's chairman Akio Morita and his "Customers are Marks. Americans are so stupid" comment through the embedded copyright protection virus loaded on Sony produced CD audio through more recent times and the Sony Playstation account hacking, they have remained consistent. Never taking the high road, and always willing to sell out their customers for a dime, this then is no surprise.

    The only way to stop them from acting this way is to take away their cash. Find another brand. There are so many good stand up companies that nobody should ever "need" a Sony product.
    • Kind of like Google does?

      "Never taking the high road, and always willing to sell out their customers for a dime"

      Kind of like Google does? Just sayin' Neither of these two companies have the customers best interest at heart, it's all about market share no matter the means in order to get it. Including lousy products that seem cool.
  • It quickly becomes not worth it

    Freedom has value. The new PS4 and Xbox 720 take away your freedom to buy/sell used games or even your console. Both systems also require a constant internet connection, removing your freedom to play stand-alone (and playing Xbox is what I do when the internet is down!). Now Sony wants to take away the freedom to be anonymous too? Some of the games are fun for a while, but they aren't that good compared to the price that the new consoles demand.
    Anono Mouser
    • source

      Do you have a source for the PS4 taking away used games?
    • Not entirely correct

      Wrong, the PS4 will play used games:

      And wrong, the PS4 will not need a constant internet connection:
    • Rumours

      You have to discern between facts and rumours. Your post is full of unconfirmed rumours, nothing else.
  • The greatest data mining utility in the world

    Thank Christ that someone has picked up on the data mining aspect of the announcement.

    I had despaired, having watched the live broadcast and then reading the news, that the main complaint seems to have been the absence of a physical console revelation.

    To paraphrase the speakers at the event, the PS4 will "know" who you are, what you like, what you dislike, how you play a game, who your friends are, what movies you watch, what music you listen to... and it will share it all with Facebook and Ustream.

    The PS4 will become one of the most powerful data mining tools known to man.

    It will analyse every moment you spend on the console and share it with the world, giving Sony and Facebook invaluable data with which to target you, profile you and make a shitload more money from you and your data.

    This is a very bad thing, a massive negative in my books, though it is something that we have allowed to happen by our laziness and desire for instant gratification.

    This alone places a massive question mark next to the console in my opinion.

    One would hope that one can opt out of this kind of invasion of privacy, however one wonders if doing so may in some way hamper one's experience of the console.

    Despite the massive potential the console showed during the two and a half hour event, this feature alone will make me consider not purchasing it.

    It was rather clever of Sony to obfuscate this massive black mark against them by not showing the console itself.

    A very worrisome day for gamers indeed.
    • true, but let's not forget

      Anything that comes from Google, such as Android and their "free" service already do this. This is the new direction in which Microsoft is "all in". Just to name two, but more and more do it.

      Behind all this are the likes of Google and Facebook. This is their business model, this is what they trade. As they have plenty of easy money, it is trivial for them to bribe the troubled companies like Sony. I bet Sony are not even getting much out of this.

      The solution is to get rid of these data mining companies, but... that will never happen, because most users are sheep, have no idea that they pay dearly with their privacy for the freebies and, the no-name agencies that created them and support them will not permit this. They have finally god the perfect vehicle to collect first-hand evidence.
  • The irony of all the facebook coverage on this page is not lost

    I almost logged into facebook to make this comment and i have shared the story to facebook... but i did notice the whole SHARE aspect... What if you dont want to share, you dont have friends,