Any tool has a dark side. A screwdriver, hammer, or drill can harm as readily as it can help, and it all depends on the frame of mind from which it's used. This was demonstrated as Brussels officials offered up a report around the terror attacks that struck Paris on Friday, suggesting that the terrorists involved may have turned to PlayStation 4 systems as a coordination tool.
Essentially, the Brussels report notes, the PlayStation 4 may have been used as a secure connection tool, allowing the terrorists in question to discuss plans without the government catching on. Not because Sony's next-gen gaming console offers any kind of encryption or other secure features, but because few if any intelligence officials would have been watching PlayStation 4 traffic. While email and smartphone traffic is frequently followed, PlayStation 4 channels are —indeed, all gaming systems are — much less monitored.
At least one PlayStation 4 was reportedly recovered following several arrests, and this lead Belgium's federal home affairs minister, Jan Jambon, to note that “PlayStation 4 is even more difficult to keep track of than WhatsApp.” Jambon went on to note that that's the biggest reason that groups like ISIS like to turn to the devices, because there's less chance of messages being intercepted.
Forbes' Paul Tassi chipped in, noting that “...simple voice communication could have worked just fine.” That's not the only method, either; consider the growth of user-generated content in games. Anything from a level of Super Mario Maker to a Fallout: New Vegas mod might have a coded message hidden therein and catching it would be next to impossible without someone to analyze all that content.
This is potentially bad news for gamers; after spending years taking on the various hysteria over everything from Fatality endings in Mortal Kombat to Jack Thompson's screeds about “murder simulators”—remember when PlayStation 2 systems might have been part of Iraqi missiles?—the last thing gamers needed was the idea that a platform might actually be ferrying secret messages for terrorists.
Worse, the idea of how to stop such an insidious communication method is just as unpalatable. We can't possibly keep track of every piece of user-generated content that might contain the coordinates of a dead drop site or anything like that. It's such a volume of material that any monitoring would either be random or ludicrously oversized, and we'd never really know if it were an actual message or just part of the game. The idea of an outright ban might be on some minds, but this would have far-reaching economic consequences.
Many of these ideas are only technically or potentially possible; would we shut down much of an industry as a defense against theoretical problems? Would that do more harm than good in the end? The idea that every tool has a dark side is plainly visible here, but we don't stop selling baseball bats because they can be used as weapons. We don't stop selling cars because drunk drivers exist. Nor should we stop letting users communicate over consoles and mod games because some might put such things to darker use.