Big Brother Award

Think a game that features Santa Claus trying to knock down his elves with a bowling ball sounds like fun? Would it sound like less fun if you knew that while you were playing the game, your computer was secretly making an Internet connection to the game's creators?

Our Big Brother Award for this week's most annoying invasion of our privacy goes to NVision Design Inc., the makers of the aforementioned game, Elf Bowling. The company is well-known for creating a series of free games that users can pass along via e-mail. But according to a Dec. 15 article in the San Jose Mercury News, when a player starts up their most recent game, the first thing Elf Bowling does is try to establish an Internet connection back to NVision—unknown to the user.

Company CEO Michael Bielinski admitted to the Mercury News that the game was being used to test a new technology that would allow remote updates to software programs, and he said they will probably include a privacy statement in the future that would warn players about the feature. But he defended his company's actions by pointing out that since the feature was not fully enabled, no actual information was transmitted back to the company, so no harm was done—an argument that, as Junkbusters president Jason Catlett pointed out in the article, is a little like saying it's okay for someone to break into your house as long as he doesn't take anything while he's there.

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