Thursday, November 19, 2015

Terrorists Are Probably Not Using Video Games for Communication

Let the scare tactics begin! CBS has a wonderfully bad story about terrorism. Specially how they may be using video games to communicate with each other, undetected. Gasp! And instead of asking a national security, or a terrorist expert, hell even a sociologist, CBS turned to CNET Senior Editor Jeff Bakalar.

Bakalar has no history of working with the government or with any group that studies the habits of terrorists. He has a Bachelor of Arts, has worked on a few tv sets and independent films, and works at CNET as a podcaster and vidoegrapher. I'm thinking the line of logic regarding "terrorists use games to communicate" came from an episode of NCIS or CSI.

By the way, CBS owns CNET. Clearly they went a long way to try and find an expert on the subject matter.

Having typed all of that, it's not implausible to imagine that people are using messaging systems in video games and on consoles to harm others physically. We would be silly to think otherwise. But to assume that's the only option is a bit far-fetched given the system restrictions globally, the cost of the content plus additional fees/upkeep, and chat logs are recorded through a number of gaming companies - which you may not know about. How else do you think Microsoft bans people if they don't have a record of the chat log to confirm their actions?

Bakalar references the PlayStation 4 in the story, and that some apps on the console can make it easy for people to communicate without being in a game. Which is true. But it's not like we're talking about CIA level of encryption here (as Bakalar points out, but with NASA for some odd reason). It's fairly easy for someone to break into those chats and review logs, from a hacker's perspective. There's little challenge to it.

CBS ran with the PS4 and started throwing down sales stats and how monitoring everyone's information is not practical for Sony. Why they don't throw in Microsoft or Nintendo is beyond me. They felt like picking on Sony today. But! Because there are so many PS4 units out there, it's easy for someone to "fly under the radar."

But it's not, as mentioned earlier. While 30 million units sold seems like a lot and may be impossible to track, I can assure you that Sony has information about every, single, console all the time. Why? Because you have to have an internet connection in order to talk to another person. The moment you go online, they have your name, address, and credit card info attached to the serial number of that system. They know when you are and are not active. To think otherwise is naive. And this isn't meant to be a Big Brother scare tactic. It's just the plain ol' truth.

The thing is that for 99.99% of us, they don't give a rats butt about what we're saying and doing unless we violate the Terms of Service for the console. It is such a tiny, tiny, tiny, almost invisible fraction of people who use games for nefarious reasons, with intent to harm long before they considered going through a video game to find victims. (Which I still contest is silly. A PS4 will still set you back a few hundred dollars, more in certain countries since it's restricted in sales in some locations. And with the XBox One and PS4 you have to pay a monthly fee for online services. Plus if you use an MMO, there's another monthly fee for that. When all is said and done, your initial start-up costs are $750 minimum, before factoring in your cable company's bill. Why go through all of that time and wasted money when an online chat program-there are thousands of free programs and encrypting the data can be done by one person, a few bucks to get someone to do it for you-or a burner phone-$20 phones at WalMart-could do the same thing at a fraction of the price?)

What concerns me, and many others I hope, is this fear mongering. In the wake of more terrorist attacks that people will lay blame on anything that may be the cause. And calling out video games as a potential "hot bed" for terrorist communication will dump more hate onto gamers. We're ostracized enough. Do we really need this type of light on our community?

I'm sure Bakalar had good intent behind his comments. He wants to help out and let people know that there are other ways for the "bad guys" to talk to each other.

What resulted is a CBS fear speech against gamers.

This is also another fine example of not to believe everything you read on the internet. Fact check. Make sure the story you have consumed is legitimate, because it's very easy for people to post fake articles that it's becoming the norm (which really sucks, btw). This CBS story does not use any other sources. No links to national security reports that indicate that video games may be used for terrorists communications. No corroborating stories or evidence to back up their claims. They didn't even link Bakalar correctly. Instead of going to his CNET profile, it goes to the PS4 product page on CNET (which makes me wonder if this is a PS4 ad instead, albeit a bad one). The only reason the CBS story is gaining traction is because it's CBS; a reliable news outlet. That's it!

Always check the stories and back up your claims, kids.

Until then, keep gaming. The terrorists don't care about your gaming score, and Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo were already watching you. Get over it and game on.

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