Thursday, May 6, 2010

Privacy Implications of Real ID

Consider the following two statements on a guild application:

- To facilitate contacting players as needed, all raiders are require to add the raid leader as a friend on their real world Facebook account.
- To facilitate contacting players as needed, all raiders are required to add the raid leader as a RealID friend on battle.net.

The former statement would probably raise some red flags with most people, though Uncle Ferrel's stories from his days as an elite EQ1 raider suggest that they're not unprecedented in MMORPG history. By incorporating the functionality into the default UI using the Battle.net RealID friend system, along with newly announced Facebook integration, Blizzard has legitimized the latter (which effectively leads to the former).

I've written before about real world privacy consequences of linking your gaming to your real life identity. This new push - all character alts in all Blizzard games will be included - adds in consequences for your virtual life as well. Spinks observes that we may be seeing the end of the virtual identity.

For some players, this type of functionality might be a good thing. I would be happy with allowing the raid leader in my WoW guild to contact me on my WoW alts in the event that there's a vacant slot in a raid that needs any warm body (the only circumstance under which I would potentially be worth bringing along). However, this would expose my real name to all of his realID friends, which I would be less thrilled about. And, as with any social networking oversharing, the consequences of making the "wrong" decision may not be immediately obvious at the time the player makes them, and may be hard to correct in any discreet fashion.

The unfortunate part is that there is nowhere for players to hide. Every game out there has its own web portal these day, and we can expect sites like Sony's Station, Turbine's my.game.com (my.ddo and my.lotro), and Bioware's version (used in Dragon Age and presumably SWTOR) to include Blizzard's new features ASAP in a push to gather more marketing data. If the genre is changing for the worse, players have no alternative other than to give up gaming and go take up books (until someone starts releasing iPad and Kindle-only books that require Facebook integration, which may not be that far off either).

10 comments:

Carson 63000 said...

I thought the traditional course of action was to create an pseudonymous Facebook account rather that use your real one, if indeed you have one.

Anonymous said...

Which one of my 6 facebook accounts do you want me to friend you? ;)

Nevertheless, faking accounts and ips isn't really a solution, since only a tiny percentage of people will do that, while most people will happily and ignorantly spill as much info as they can.

Also marketeers are after the details of the masses, not the few paranoid people with fake accounts. Those aren't in the target group anyway.

Hendrix said...

Which one of my 6 facebook accounts do you want me to friend you? ;)

Nevertheless, faking accounts and ips isn't really a solution, since only a tiny percentage of people will do that, while most people will happily and ignorantly spill as much info as they can.

Also marketeers are after the details of the masses, not the few paranoid people with fake accounts. Those aren't in the target group anyway.

Hendrix said...

ups, double post. I blame my browser for that. :D

Zelmaru said...

I've posted on my own blog about this, but I'm not a fan. I think it's problematic because people don't read the fine print... while this feature is completely optional (for now), people may opt in without realizing that (1) if they give an e-mail not associated with their real name, their real name will be exposed through battle.net (not even via facebook, so fake account is not really an option) and (2) friends of friends can see their real name. I will not be using this feature because I would be exposing my name to people whom I did not friend, and would be at the mercy of my friends, hoping they are responsible with their friending habits.

Yeebo said...

I think Hendrix has the right of it, those of us that value our privacy will end up having to create e-mail and facebook fronts. I wonder if Yeebo is taken?

More generally, Blizzard doesn't seem to care in the slightest about player privacy. I found it a bit disturbing that there was no opt out for the armory. This sounds worse.

Gronthe said...

I'll do whatever I can to keep my identity private. What I worry about are laws that either exist now or will exist that will allow companies to somehow "get around" all my fronts and use any means necessary to track down who I am and what I do.

It is troubling, as Zelmaru says, that people just don't pay attention to what they agree to. There's a reason the small print is about 100,000 words long, the lawyers and business people don't want you to read it, they just want you to sign off your identity that they can sell for profit.

It's not difficult to understand why a business will integrate certain policies, if it's not profitable it won't happen. I've witnessed it too many times in RL to not believe that.

lissanna said...

Video games like WoW have consequences if you try to sign up with pseudonyms, as in... if the account gets hacked, you run the risk of losing it completely if it isn't registered to your real name.

Ferrel said...

Even I think this goes a bit too far. Back in the day we mostly just required people to be in a Ventrilo channel or give us their personal cell number. This way our connection would be directly to them and we would almost never involve their families or friends.

I can name a few occasions when I talked to a spouse though. It was always hilarious when they knew who I was and why I was calling.

While I do support some decrease in a players ability to be completely anonymous (and thus an ass) I'm not so sure I'd want my guild leader posting on my Facebook page that I need to be raiding instead of talking to my mom.

Anonymous said...

I'm not worried too much about stalkers or anybody like that coming into contact with me via Real ID.

What I am curious about though is why require the use of your real name? And why make this so it is only for real life friends? And why should your friend's friends see your full name?