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Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Data the dog: Twitter turns its privacy policy into an old-school video game | Twitter

On Friday, Elon Musk announced he was pausing his $45bn purchase of Twitter because he had only just discovered some of the accounts on the site were fake.

But that’s not the strangest thing that has happened to the beleaguered social media platform this week. Because on Tuesday the current top brass, perhaps trying to demonstrate their vision for the site, released a Super Nintendo-style browser game that recaps Twitter’s private policy.

The platform unveiled Twitter Data Dash, which plays like a vintage side-scrolling platformer that’s been draped with a healthy dose of disinformation anxiety.

You take control of a blue-hued puppy named Data and are tasked with retrieving five bones hidden in each of the game’s day-glo urban environments. (Sonic the Hedgehog 2 was the analog I kept returning to during my gameplay.) After you complete your objective, the level ends and Twitter blesses you with a distilled talking point from its ethics board. Case in point: once I collected my first set of bones, a message popped up on screen informing me that I could opt out of Twitter’s targeted advertisements if I wanted. The second time around, I was given instructions on how to filter my DMs.

game image shows underwater scene with sunken ship and a message that says ‘Data slid into a sea of DMs! Catch friendly messages to float back up and avoid ones you don’t want.’
Photograph: Twitter

I get the instincts here. Everyone on the internet has been conditioned to blindly scroll through every terms-of-service agreement we come across, so the idea of condensing some of the finer points into a chibi, interactive browser distraction does make some utilitarian sense. After all, the company has just rewritten its privacy policy and could certainly use some positive PR. But some of the messaging in the game is self-contradictory. In the opening sequence, we are told that Data wants to avoid all of the intrusive “cat ads” in their way. Sure enough, you’ll run into a few felines, brandishing feline-embossed propaganda, which Data must dodge in order to not take damage. But how does that translate to the actual platform? Is Twitter telling me that I should scroll past every ad I see on my timeline? Is it acknowledging that in order to participate on social media, one must be constantly evading the algorithm?

“If Twitter actually wanted to be accurate with this level, then you wouldn’t be freely running around a city, dodging bad guys and collecting bones of somewhat questionable origin,” points out the tech site Gizmodo. “Instead, the bad guys are unavoidable, and they’re not only actively piling on top of your poor Data pup and crushing his tiny lungs, but you, the player, need to live with the knowledge that Data will keep on being smothered long after you exit the game.”

The more important issue with Twitter Data Dash is that the game isn’t very fun. The controls are too floaty: right now the jump button is mapped to the up arrow, and that’s just crazy. If we must gamify our private policies – if that is the nightmare we must live through – then I demand Elden Ring-like precision. At this point, it’s the least Twitter can do.

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