Very clever: Google’s Ingress masks Data-Collection in Gaming


As a company Google has a reputation for being clever, but their latest Android app Ingress seems like a particularly intelligent method of gathering data from their ever expanding user base.

Developed in Google’s Niantic Labs division, the game makes use of mobile phones’ geolocation abilities and augmented reality for a unique gameplay experience. Users join one of two secret factions that are battling over what to do with an energy source that is entering into our world. The creators of the game urge players to “move through the real world using your Android device… to discover and tap sources of this mysterious energy. Acquire objects to aid in your quest, deploy tech to capture territory, and ally with other players to advance the cause of the Enlightened or the Resistance.”

Why is this clever? Ingress, as does Niantic Lab’s earlier project Field Trip, encourages players to walk around outside, travel from point to point around within their city. This data is invaluable for a company seeking to find the best possible walking routes in a crowded cosmopolitan environment. In addition to its normal complex algorithms, Google is cajoling its users to provide it with real-world-data on how best to get from point A to B on foot. This can help Google to further improve the quality of its Google Maps application, both on smart phones and for its Google Glass project, whenever that arrives.

Tech Crunch’s Darrell Etherington points out that the game follows in the footsteps of start-developers like Massive Damage, whose games Please Stay Calm and Shadow Cities use  location-based gameplay. But whereas those games are available to anyone with a smartphone, access to Ingress is limited to a closed-beta set of users… possibly to enhance the mystique surrounding the game.

The takeaway is that organizations like Google are using games to gather information in new and effective ways. By wrapping data collection in the trappings of an engaging interactive experience, Ingress is actually fueling a desire amongst its users to provide it with information (and giving the company positive coverage to boot.) NGOs and governments can find a lesson in this – by creating a games project that is worth engaging with, they can shape users’ behavior and thinking.

The webcomic XKCD pokes fun at the lengths some Ingress users will go to complete in-game challenges.

About Derek Caelin

Derek is a Specialist at the PeaceTech Lab. He seeks to serve as a connection point between the worlds of conflict resolution and technology. When he isn’t working on the PeaceTech Exchange project and exploring the possibilities for tech in fostering transparency and accountability in Iraq, he experiments with tech for peacebuilding efforts – particularly those that involve games – around the world. He also proudly wears the title of “Office Photoshop Guy”. An independent games designer, Derek often collaborates in the Send More People project. In his spare time, Derek creates videos exploring Arab political videogames. Derek provides mentorship and training for low-cost, easy to use technologies such as mapping, analytics, and data-gathering tools. Derek holds a Master’s degree in Middle East Studies from The George Washington University in Washington, D.C.



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