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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 September 2018

Mariam: game developer denies accusations of privacy breach

The developer of online game Mariam, which Sharjah and Dubai Police warned against using, denied accusations that his game uses players' information as a privacy breach

The developer of an online game called Mariam, which Sharjah and Dubai Police warned against using, has denied accusations that his game uses players' information as a privacy breach. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
The developer of an online game called Mariam, which Sharjah and Dubai Police warned against using, has denied accusations that his game uses players' information as a privacy breach. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

The developer of an online game called Mariam, which Sharjah and Dubai Police warned against using, denied accusations that his game uses information provided by players as a privacy breach.

On his Twitter account, Salman Al Harbi, a Saudi Arabian national, said that Mariam was just a game. “I developed the game along with a number of Saudi men last July and it is just for fun," he tweeted. "It does not save answers nor information provided by players."

The game, which sparked debates in several Gulf countries, is about a little girl who gets lost in a deserted area and asks players to help guide her back home.

As part of the game, players are asked to direct Mariam, during which she asks them a number of questions she says would help guide them to the right path.

Some of the questions are considered personal while others are of political nature, including a number of topics such as the recent Qatar crisis and the current political situation in the region.

In the game’s first level, Mariam asks the player to enter a dark room in order to meet her father, then completes her multiple question-answers. One of which asks whether Qatar is guilty or not. The player must then wait 24 hours to reach the next level to resume playing.

Sharjah and Dubai Police warned the public against playing the game, describing it as a violation of privacy as the information provided by players could be used for illegal purposes.

In a statement issued by Sharjah Police, Colonel Dr Obaid Hassan said that the players' data required as part of the game could be later used for phishing, electronic crimes or any other illegal purposes.

“However, what doubled people’s interest in this game is the publicity given to it by social media users who described it as a spy-ware or a sorcery programme," said Col Dr Hassan, an IT specialist at the police. "The players may be drawn into [unlawful] actions that are incompatible with our religion and social values or cause harm to the person or others."

He urged parents to get closer to their children and monitor the games they play while engaging them in positive and productive activities.

Major General Khalil Al Mansouri, assistant to the Dubai Police Chief for Criminal Investigation Affairs, also warned players against playing Mariam. “This game relies on social engineering in collecting personal data and requires access to certain applications on the player’s smartphone which may end up in obtaining pictures from photo albums or even acquire confidential information,” he said in a statement.

Several tweets from Saudi Arabia called for the game to be banned while others from Bahrain and Kuwait posted warnings against the game.

However, pro-Mariam game users tweeted that it was entertaining and they finished all its levels without any breach of their privacy.

Mr Al Harbi tweeted that more than 9,000 people played his game in Dubai alone and many thousands in other countries across the world.

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