CFPB vows to begin monitoring video gaming marketplaces for financial, privacy risks

Financial and privacy risks are growing through video gaming marketplaces in banking options and payments, the federal consumer financial protection agency said Thursday, warning that it will now be monitoring those spheres.

In a report examining the growth of financial transactions in online video games and virtual worlds, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) said the gaming platforms “increasingly resemble traditional banking and payment systems that facilitate the storage and exchange of billions of dollars in assets, including virtual currencies.”

“However, consumers report being harmed by scams or theft on gaming platforms and not receiving the protections they would expect under federal law,” the bureau said. “The CFPB will be monitoring markets where financial products and services are offered, including video games and virtual worlds, to ensure compliance with federal consumer financial protection laws.”

CFPB said it has received consumer complaints about hacking attempts, account theft, and lost access to gaming assets. “In the complaints, most consumers report receiving limited support from the gaming companies, such as reimbursements or security improvements,” the bureau said. “Existing consumer protection laws apply to banking and payment systems that facilitate the storage and exchange of valuable assets. The CFPB is monitoring markets where financial products and services may be offered, including video games and virtual worlds.”

Its report, according to CFPB, identifies trends and risks associated with gaming assets, including:

  • Games and virtual worlds enable players to store and transfer valuable assets, including in-game currencies and virtual items such as cosmetic skins or collectibles. The bureau said these products and services resemble conventional financial products.
  • The increased value of in-game assets has fueled a rise in scams, phishing attempts, and account thefts. “Attackers use phishing tactics or compromised user credentials to break into accounts and access game currency or virtual items, and then sell these assets off the platform for other currency,” the bureau said. It charged that gaming companies provide little support when customers experience financial harm.
  • Gaming publishers are collecting large amounts of data on players, including behavioral details such as financial data, purchasing history and spending thresholds. Gaming platforms can also track players’ location data, which can generate an accurate portrait of a player’s daily routines, such as their home address, places of employment or worship, and health and medical status. “And with the advent of virtual- and mixed-reality gaming, the information gathered by headsets may include biometric data such as iris scans, eye movement, pupil response, and gait analysis, which may pose medical privacy risks,” the bureau said.

CFPB Report Identifies Financial and Privacy Risks to Consumers in Video Gaming Marketplaces