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Do you know who can see the items you’ve posted on Facebook? This, of course, depends on the privacy settings you’ve used for each picture, text or link that you’ve shared throughout your Facebook history.

You might be extremely careful in deciding who can see these things. But as time goes on, the number of items people share increases. And the number contacts they share them with increases too. So it’s easy to lose track of who can see what.

What’s more, an item that you may have been happy to share three years ago when you were at university, you may not be quite so happy to share now that you are looking for employment.

So how best to increase people’s awareness of their privacy settings? Today, Alexandra Cetto and pals from the University of Regensburg in Germany, say they’ve developed a serious game called Friend Inspector that allows users to increase their privacy awareness on Facebook.

And they say that within five months of its launch, the game had been requested over 100,000 times.

In recent years, serious games have become an increasingly important learning medium through digital simulations and virtual environments. So Cetto and co set about developing a game that could increase people’s awareness of privacy on Facebook.

Designing serious games is something of a black art. At the very least, there needs to be motivation to play and some kind of feedback or score to beat. And at the same time, the game has to achieve some kind of learning objective, in this case an enhanced awareness of privacy.

Aimed at 16-25 year olds, the game these guys came up with is deceptively simple. When potential players land on the home page, they’re asked a simple question: “Do you know who can see your Facebook profile?” This is followed by the teaser: “Playfully discover who can see your shared items and get advice to improve your privacy.”

When players sign up, the game retrieves his or her contacts, shared items and their privacy settings from Facebook. It then presents the player with a pair of these shared items asking which is more personal.

This part of the game, called Item Battle, last 10 rounds and results in an ordered list of items ranked by personal sensitivity. The game then uses this list in the next part of the challenge, which it calls Find Your Friends.

In this section, the player is presented with an item that is ranked sensitive, along with 20 profile pictures that consist of some of his or her contacts as well as randomly selected strangers. The player simply has to select the contacts that are able to see this item and is scored in the process.

The scoring system is specifically designed to focus the player’s attention on the task. In each round of the Find Your Friends section, the player starts with 10,000 points but loses 200 points for every second it takes to complete the task. The player also loses 1000 points for each incorrect profile he or she selects.

However, as the player learns about the privacy settings in use, he or she can gain control over the game and reach higher scores.

Finally, the game assesses the player’s score and makes a set of personalised recommendations about how to improve privacy, such as how to create friend lists, how to share personal items in a targeted manner and how the term friendship on a social network site differs from friendship in the real world.

Cetto and co say the way Friend Inspector operates is entirely secure. It’s a client-side application that runs solely on the user’s browser. So no personal data ever leaves the user’s domain.

(Although that also means that detailed usage statistics are not available, since the game does not store or analyse log files for privacy reasons.)

Nevertheless, the game has received significant media attention. “Friend Inspector was launched on June 26th, 2013 and has been widely covered in national and international media (press, radio, and television),” say Cetto and co. They say it is available in English and German and has been requested more than 100,000 times.

That looks like a handy approach to privacy that should appeal to the type of younger users that Facebook attracts and for whom privacy awareness is surely a useful goal. Try it at http://www.friend-inspector.org/.

Ref: arxiv.org/abs/1402.5878 : Friend Inspector: A Serious Game to Enhance Privacy Awareness in Social Networks

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