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Activision is paying employees to harvest their health data

It’s fair to say that Activision Blizzard isn’t the world’s favourite company after its cost cutting measures resulted in mass layoffs and its investors claim to have been misled by Bungie’s split. Recent reports of the company offering to collect data from its employees isn’t going to help matters, but it seems as though Activision is paving the way forward with regards to consent and protection of information.

The Washington Post revealed that Activision Blizzard has been utilising pregnancy tracking application Ovia Health to monitor the data of employees. The app offers a range of features, including the ability to track mental health, sleep habits, diet and dive into autism and cancer care. While this might start ringing alarm bells that throwback to Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal, Activision’s efforts are entirely voluntary, transparent, anonymous and participants actually get paid for taking part.

“Each time we introduced something, there was a bit of an outcry: ‘You’re prying into our lives,’” Activision Blizzard VP of global benefits Milt Ezzard said to The Post. “Eventually people understood it’s all voluntary, there’s no gun to your head, and we’re going to reward you if you choose to do it.”

It was revealed that participants are rewarded with a $1 gift card for each day that the application is used, and since Activision is paying Ovia for the business package, all data is sent back to the company in anonymous, aggregated form to comply with privacy laws. Beyond this, it wasn’t revealed how the studio was using the data, but Ezzard has claimed that employee attitudes have improved since 2014, when the system was first put in place.

Privacy experts voiced their concern about the application, questioning whether situational data could ever track back to a specific employee and be used for individual discrimination. Ovia assured that this is not possible, telling Kotaku that employers only see “percentage-based, aggregate, di-identified data” that help to objectively identify whether the workplace environment is improving or not.

There’s still a real concern that employers could use such data to influence the investment into health-care benefits and other various factors, but employee Diana Diller told The Post that she believes otherwise. “Maybe I’m naive, but I thought of it as positive reinforcement: They’re trying to help me take care of myself,” said Diller.

KitGuru Says: Scepticism is a natural reflex after witnessing nightmare after nightmare regarding data collection, making it harder to accept that it is near-essential in the digital age. Instead, it’s about how the data collection is conducted and what control the individual user has over it, all of which Activision has been mindful of when trying to improve its workplace.

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