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Blizzard “Real ID” system sparks controversy

Blizzard Entertainment, makers of World of Warcraft and other games, unveils controversial new forum policies

I’m a person who has long argued that there is no privacy on the Internet,there never was any privacy on the Internet, and that pretending otherwise is a comfortable delusion people craft for themselves in order to not freak out thinking about how much of their personal information is floating around in the ether.

Having said that…Blizzard is seriously out of bounds on this one. The concern isn’t just the forums. If it was, we’d all just shrug and go on with our lives; I can’t remember the last time I read the official forums, much less posted to them. And as you can see, I post to Usenet with my real name and e-mail address, and have done so for 20 years, so I’m not overly concerned with people finding me .

But then, I’ve never had a stalker. I’ve never been sexually assaulted. I’ve never been the victim of identity theft. I’ve never been harassed because I’m female, or gay, or transgendered. But I know people who fall into every single one of those categories, some of them very close to me. Their concerns about protecting their identity from random strangers are real, substantial, and very much valid.

Right now, it’s just the forums, but what happens when they decide to reveal your real name to people using the Armoury? Or an in-game query against your character? As much as I generally regard slippery-slope arguments as a fallacy, it does seem very clear that Blizzard has a cavalier attitude towards its users’ identities, and that is troubling.

It’s one thing to soapbox about the illusion of privacy on the Internet, and another thing to simply blatantly ignore the importance of the illusion and flagrantly expose your users’ information. There may be only the thinnest line between you and the world, but that thin line matters; it’s part of the social contract that allows the Internet to function.

Bad move, Blizzard. Very, very bad move.

More reading on this that I liked:

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Blizzard sensibly backs away from new forum policy

17 Comments

  1. And so it goes.

    I have decided, as taciturn as I already am, to become even more so. I won’t be posting on the WoW official forums again, ever. Whether I’m going to initiate a personal boycott against the company for its continually more invasive privacy practices, I am mulling over.

    I play games to escape my RL identity. NOT to be tethered to it.

  2. And to think Bliz realy belives in what they have said “Removing the veil of anonymity typical to online dialogue will contribute to a more positive forum environment, promote constructive conversations, and connect the Blizzard community in ways they haven’t been connected before,”

    I dont think it will ever stop the flameing and trolling and such. As long as people can hide behind the keyboard and have the idea in their heads that their real address cant be found, they will still do all those things Bliz is trying to stop.

    Will this stop me from playing? No. I play cause I enjoy the game and I think Bliz cranks out some quality games so will continue playing. I agree with you in that I have never been a victum of any of those thing you mentioned. If i ever do get hit, I guess I will re-evaluate what i will do after I pick up the peices.

    Bad Blizzard … no cookie for you!

    • I think what Blizzard believes in is the money to be made from data mining, and possible the gubmint intelligence to be gathered more easily….

      • I don’t think that’s it, actually. Blizzard already *has* the data, and they can mine it to their hearts content. They gain nothing material by exposing players’ real names to the public.

        Honestly, so much of this story really does boil down to the baffled query: “What were they thinking?”

        • There’s a material angle behind it, I’m sure. They knew it would be a big hot steaming mess when they did this. They surely have a reason for it. They’re either getting data they didn’t have or making it possible for other entities to get it or something.

          • I’ve heard a rumour (which I cannot substantiate, so it’s hearsay) that this is coming down from Activision and Blizzard’s employees are all pretty pissed about it as well.

            We’ll see. They might reverse direction once it starts to hit them in the pocketbook. I know some folks *are* quitting over it.

          • I think the bad PR could be pretty persuasive. There was a fairly big groundswell after the Google Buzz fiasco both online and in the mainstream press.

  3. One thing that may be driving this is not the western WoW market but the popularity of Starcraft in Korea. They may feel it’s worth pissing off a few Americans to keep on the good side of a country where it’s product is so popular that they have professional leagues. Online gaming is massive in the far east.

    http://watchingthewatchers.org/indepth/1365085/Korean-law-driving-policy-blizzard

    • Oh, very interesting. That could explain a lot (though it makes you wonder why they don’t just out and say so, rather than this song-and-dance about “better forum experiences”0

  4. Thanks for the links; my class this fall will be focusing on privacy issues online (mostly facebook stuff) and I think I’ll be adding the Warcraft case to my reading list!

  5. Minor point, but it’s PZ Myers, one e.

    I think that thread may be where I saw that Blizzard have already changed their minds about publishing the real names of their staff, because they don’t want the staff harassed. But aren’t (as of a couple of hours ago, at least) admitting that “she’s queer” or “he’s trans” or “they did something I don’t like and I’m a fucking idiot” are as potentially dangerous as “they work for WoW.”

  6. Really great post, Rob. It’s nice to see you check your privilege (as they say) and think of others. I wish more people had that instinct and generosity of spirit. I got into several arguments with people over the Google Buzz fiasco where they were like “well nothing’s happened to me. i just find it a bit annoying. people will just have to get over it that’s the way it is”.

    Like most things, anonymity can be both good and bad. It allows for greater freedom of speech & ideas exchange and for teh st00pid.

    I think a space for privacy is a must on the internet. If we let it go here, we’ll just be further conditioned out of it in other areas of our lives. The next generation is poised to have no concept of it.

    Without privacy, safe space and a possibility for dissent and non-conformity gets smaller and smaller and we NEED those things as a society

    • Thanks. I’m not always successful at noticing, but I do make an effort to be aware. Even where I’m not directly affected, so many close friends and lovers *are* affected by these issues that I can’t help but account for them.

      As I said in the preamble, I think that most privacy on the Internet is illusory, to the extent that I don’t put anything on the Internet that I don’t consider public. (I think I’ve made a total of four or five friends locked posts in over a decade of this journal.) But there’s a line between “You’re never really private” and “A third party is going to plaster your real name all over its website without your permission.”, and when a company crosses it, it’s right and proper to call them on it. The Internet has a culture, and is a society, and this is how cultures and societies create and enforce their norms.

      • There are layers of privacy on the Internet and they can be slippery. I enjoyed and was pretty open about posting publicly yet anonymously (unless you knew my real name it was not tied to my username) for a long time until the unscrupulous ex of someone I was dating starting mining my journal for info on our rship so she could disrupt our scene and lure him back. Or even further out: the friend of his scorned, former fuckbuddy did a bunch of searches on me and posted identity theivable info like my name, where i lived, my birthdate, all kinds of stuff! in addition to crazy, nasty commentary and threats to beat me over the head with a big ash tray and have her connections in the broadband world turn off my Internet! The nutjobbery is endless and unpredictable in the wilds of the Internetz.

        And then when you add in the layer of motivation for the almighty dollar… Yeah. It gets way uglier. Plus hate, or politics, or gender or you stole my man, or you killed my druid or whatever, or fill in the blank. Seems the meanies of the playground never grow up and now the playground finds us again in adulthood. Now, companies are added bullies there.

        When you mention culture and society with culture and society come authories with power -- in this case owners of fora or purveyors of online environments like games. Maybe the online revolutions will inform and inspire some of us who are asleep in real life.

  7. Well stated. Thank you for writing this and giving this issue some visibility.

  8. I can remember a score of incidents in Eve-Online where very angry people have been mouthing off on the lines of “If I knew where he lived, I’d…”. And I rather suspect that some of them weren’t just mouthing off, either.

    I don’t know if WoW has quite Eve’s ability to enable individual characters to seriously **** off hundreds or thousands of other players (e.g. a director gutting an alliance of tens or even hundreds of billions worth of cash and equipment and then defecting to their opponents, voiding control of all their systems as he goes). Or even individual players e.g. by killing someone silly or naive enough to load all their valuables into a tissue-paper hauler and then fly it through “safe” space. But I’ve a horrible feeling something ‘bad’ would have long since happened to somebody in real-life were people to be less anonymous than they are.

    That said, lack of anonymity might well prevent some of these things which, it could be argued, might make the virtual world a nicer place!

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