1. Computing

Blizzard: Real Names, Real Risks

By July 8, 2010

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Activision Blizzard (stock: ATVI) has stepped chest deep into controversy after announcing plans to begin publishing players' real names in Battle.net forums. The announcement adds to the security and privacy concerns already raised over the introduction of the WoW Real ID program in-game. Affected games include World of Warcraft, StarCraft 2, Warcraft III, and Diablo II.

Activision Blizzard claims the changes will enhance the gaming experience. But judging by the tens of thousands of irate posters, the end impact may be just the opposite. As one poster succinctly put it, "I fully expected to see WoW die one day; I just didn't expect Blizzard to commit suicide".

Sobering objections to the planned outting of Battle.net players include:

  • Players with ethnically distinct names risk racial profiling;
  • Current and prospective employers may discriminate based on game choices;
  • Public personalities and those in the military or sensitive occupations risk targeting;
  • Female and underage players face heightened risk of stalking and harassment.

In addition, all players will face increased risk of disagreements carrying over into real world hostilities. Does the name Julien Barreaux ring any bells? After losing a duel in Counter Strike, he spent the next 6 months tracking down his online opponent and then stabbed him in his real life chest. And this occurred in a game where anonymity was preserved. How many more hot headed Julien's will attack if if takes only 20 minutes to find someone's address thanks to Blizzard's Real ID policy?

It's worth noting that forum use is not entirely optional. Those requiring Technical Support or Customer Service are often left with no choice but to use those forums, either as a result of direction from an in-game GM or because of poor phone coverage at Blizzard facilities.

Blizzard's stance on privacy and security concerns is especially ironic given that at each game login they display the following warning:

"Scammers are trying harder than ever to phish for your account information! We care about player security..."

If Activision Blizzard is really that concerned about player security, why incorporate changes that put players directly in harm's way? Perhaps the real motive behind their Real ID program and real name forum posts is to further their marketing plans, which includes the roll out of in-game advertising to Battle.net players, including:

"...the display of other similar in-game objects, which are downloaded temporarily to your personal computer and replaced during online game play. As part of this process, Massive may collect some information about the game and the advertisements delivered to you."

Or maybe it's so Activision Blizzard can further their Facebook integration plans. Also from their July 3rd battle.net  ToS:

"...if you have a Facebook account, your Facebook friends will be able to associate your screen name with your real name on the Service when they use the Facebook Friends feature.

Of course:

"Facebook disclaims all liability it may otherwise incur as a result of this Agreement and/or your use of the Service."

Not surprisingly, Activision Blizzard disclaims all liability as well. So what's next, Blizzard? Real Names on the Armory as well?

Comments
July 8, 2010 at 1:54 am
(1) Nadia says:

I agree with every single word. My husband and I have already asked ourselves those very questions and can only come up with one answer. Our safety and security comes second to their profit margin. We have already canceled our subscriptions.

July 8, 2010 at 4:18 am
(2) Sarah says:

I’ve played warcraft since the day it was released. I canceled my subscription today because of this. Blizzard/Activision has made it clear that they’re not interested in preserving their client’s online safety. They’re hiding behind the “it’s optional” excuse, when really, it isn’t optional. If someone needs technical assistance they pretty much have to use the forums. I hope that Blizzard will reverse this decision, but I don’t think they will. All indications are that they’re pretty set on doing it.

July 8, 2010 at 5:38 am
(3) Dylan says:

Safety and privacy concerns, while very serious, are not my area of expertise. You know what I can comment on? Security. When you call Blizzard, you are asked four pieces of information: your email address, your first name, your last name, and your secret question. So right away, you’re giving away two parts of their four part security. It’s ridiculously easy to find someone’s email address from their name, especially when a lot of people have firstname.lastname@host.com as their email address. The questions that people use for their secret question are very very common. The majority of people use city of birth, mother’s maiden name, high school, or pet’s name. If someone is on a social networking site, with their name, you can easily find that information.

Giving away the security of your paying customers is a terrible idea. Oh, I’m sorry, -selling- the security of your paying customers. In case people haven’t noticed, the World of Warcraft community, for the most part, seems vehemently opposed to the idea. There are reports of the subscription cancellation page going down for several hours because of being flooded with people who do not want to be a part of this.

July 8, 2010 at 9:28 am
(4) Kerwyn says:

During the initial comments by a Blizzard forum moderator, he stated how safe it was and gave his name out on the public board. It took under 20 seconds for users to find out not only where he lived, his phone number, his parents name, his facebook page but pictures of him as well. Within 15 minutes he had to close his facebook page.

Blizzard is perhaps legally covered tho that is most likely a tenuous coverage at best. Ethical coverage, that is another thing. To knowingly and intentionally endanger your customers in while in search of the bigger profit is unconscionable.

Blizzard put forth REAL ID a supposedly opt in feature where you can “friend” someone by real name. Unfortunately there is a HUGE security hole. With one simply line of code typed in at the prompt you can reveal everyone and anyone’s real name (first and last) whether you use REAL ID or not. This of course is a gold mine of data for the multi million dollar account stealing/gold selling business. I assure you, these gold scammer’s have mined every single server and have pretty much every persons real first and last name by now.

Blizzard apparently could care less what their customer base is saying since they are indicating they are moving forward with this invasion of privacy regardless of the outcry.

Oh and parents, that code works even if you have enable parental controls. Do you really want your 14 year old girls name available to over 10 million people?

Think hard.

July 8, 2010 at 10:13 am
(5) Dwuffy says:

Thank you for being the first mainstream news site I’ve found (and I’ve been watching) to not just copy/paste the Blizzard Blurb. Thank you for posting the legitimate concerns of Blizzard’s upset customers.

July 8, 2010 at 11:40 am
(6) Secret says:

deleted post:

“Got in touch with my ex-flatmate, whose sister works as a GM for Blizzard, to see what the internal buzz on this was. Apparently, at the moment the employees are largely as pissed as the players, and she stated that despite attempts to keep it hushed, it has become known that the big creative players within Blizzard are pretty much as unhappy about this as we are. Everybody has been told they are not free to comment on this situation outside of specially prepared statements.

It’s still going ahead, however (and here’s where in-house rumours and hearsay really start coming into play): from what they’ve picked up, the Blizzard leads have been told in no uncertain terms that the non-gameplay-related direction of the game is working to a different blueprint now. GC and company are free to play with shiny new talent trees all they like, for example, but for the first time the decisions regarding Battle.net implementation, Real ID, and plans for the general acquisition of new players for the business are no longer in Blizzard’s own hands, and that’s not going down too well.”

July 8, 2010 at 11:40 am
(7) FemaleWowFanWithoutFacebook says:

Someone posted a web page with a information he gleaned from the first and last name of a Blizz employee. He was able to figure out the employee’s fiance whose facebook page had a wedding date, map to the wedding, and picture of a very nice wedding ring. OMG! Seriously. OMG!

July 8, 2010 at 11:41 am
(8) Rilgon Arcsinh says:

Thanks for actually emphasizing the not-so-optional “optional forums” bit.

So long as Blizzard agents are instructing end-users to post on the forums as a direct method of support, the forums are not optional, no matter how many Blizzard employees or fanboys would like to claim so.

July 8, 2010 at 11:41 am
(9) Tumbles says:

Thank you, Mary, for your coverage of this issue. I’m currently waiting to see if there’s any change Blizzard will reverse this truly disturbing ‘feature.’ If not, I will cancel my account & move on. Forcing people to use their real names is an awful precedent. There are so many things wrong with this, I can’t begin to state them again. Women have ample reason to fear – I don’t want my name placed in a public forum. From topics already flying around on the wow site, obviously young kids are squealing their names & other details. Long time players are leaving the game in droves – I’ll be joining them soon. Beyond the obvious security concerns, this doesn’t bode well for an already floundering gaming community.

July 8, 2010 at 11:41 am
(10) Anonymous says:

You nailed it, thank you.

July 8, 2010 at 11:41 am
(11) mark says:

Since the RealID announcement I have read a lot of the news articles I could find, thank god for people posting them in the now 1920 page thread on the Blizzard forums, and this has to be the first one where I can honestly say at least one person see’s RealID from the same standpoint I do. How Blizzard can so willingly place underage users at risk, it’s just unfathomable.

I also find it humorus that they want to use RealID to remove the so called trash posts from the forums, but have no problem with the same people doing the exact same thing in the actual Blizzard Products. Where we actually have to spend the money to play.

July 8, 2010 at 11:44 am
(12) AlBundy says:

a few quotes:
“Privacy is essential to Liberty.”
~unknown

“Relying on the government to protect your privacy is like asking a peeping tom to install your window blinds.”
~John Perry Barlow

They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.  ~Benjamin Franklin

July 8, 2010 at 11:44 am
(13) Blake says:

I hope that this will change Blizzard’s minds. This is NOT a good decision.

July 8, 2010 at 11:47 am
(14) Tia says:

Thank you, Mary. Thank you.

July 8, 2010 at 11:47 am
(15) Long time subscriber says:

Money is the only thing they care about. It is just a question of time before we hear about the Blizzard killer or the Warcraft rapist. I feel so sorry for the familys that will have to pay the price for their greed.

July 8, 2010 at 11:48 am
(16) Ronin says:

Thank you for refusing to simply mouth Blizzard’s (or, actually, Activision’s) ridiculous spin on this issue, and discuss the real issues.

This is not being done in order to reduce trolling on the forums, as Blizz has disingenuously claimed. This is not being done to improve the users’ experience in any way. This is motivated purely by the profit they will glean from deals with FaceBook and advertisers. Period.

And yeah, it’s pretty ridiculous for them to call this “optional”, when what they real mean is that your only option is to use the forums, or not use them. Just as the “optional” in-game chat features can’t be reverted, and the “optional” use of Real ID in-game has made everyone’s name available– whether they opt out of Real ID or not.

Blizz has lost my business over this disgusting move.

July 8, 2010 at 11:49 am
(17) Dimichan says:

Great article, and as others have said, iterates concerns well instead of just quoting the original Blizzard post.

After playing since early 2006, if this trend continues, our household will be seeking safer places to game. It’s sad, since I was really looking forward to the expansion, to see it come to this – I really hope the executives and powers-that-be are also reading this and realize that there are alternatives to showing real-life information in an uncontrolled (accessible to anyone with internet) environment while still controlling “trolling and flaming.”

July 8, 2010 at 11:50 am
(18) Dan says:

A video game is not worth the safety and security of myself or my family. I have canceled my account and no longer consider Blizzard a trustworthy company to do business with. I will give my business to a company that respects players and their privacy. My guild is currently talking about which game we all want to move to.

July 8, 2010 at 11:51 am
(19) Galuit-Skullcrusher says:

http://us.battle.net/realid/faq.html
“Real ID is a system designed to be used with people you know and trust in real life.” Battle.net Real ID FAQ, two weeks ago

http://forums.wow-europe.com/thread.html?topicId=13816838128&sid=1&pageNo=203
“We have been planning this change for a very long time.” Wryxian-EuroCM, yesterday

Many players are concerned about this inconsistency. We were assured two weeks ago this was an entirely optional feature only to be used with people we know and trust. Now, that option is being taken away. What does this say about the legitimacy of the FAQ you can still access at Battle.net? What does this say about the legitimacy of anything else we’re told?

On top of that, Blizzard-Activision has stated they have even more changes planned. We will be unable to provide our feedback in the place they designate, because the place they designate is the “optional” forum. They will be intentionally skewing feedback to make it appear most people approve of any and all future Real ID changes, because the only feedback collected will be from a place only those already supporting Real ID can post.

Lastly, we feel as if the justification this will reduce “trolling” is faulty and inconclusive. In the thread I will link below, you will see many of those Blizzard has rewarded for being exemplary posters with increased status on the forum do not support this change and will leave if it is implemented. These are the kinds of posters Blizzard has deemed to be constructive and helpful, prime examples of what the rest of us should strive to be like in our own posting. These are not the trolls Blizzard-Activision is claiming to dissuade.
http://forums.worldofwarcraft.com/thread.html?topicId=25626049903&sid=1&pageNo=1

July 8, 2010 at 11:52 am
(20) Flamango says:

“Got in touch with my ex-flatmate, whose sister works as a GM for Blizzard, to see what the internal buzz on this was. Apparently, at the moment the employees are largely as pissed as the players, and she stated that despite attempts to keep it hushed, it has become known that the big creative players within Blizzard are pretty much as unhappy about this as we are. Everybody has been told they are not free to comment on this situation outside of specially prepared statements.

It’s still going ahead, however (and here’s where in-house rumours and hearsay really start coming into play): from what they’ve picked up, the Blizzard leads have been told in no uncertain terms that the non-gameplay-related direction of the game is working to a different blueprint now. GC and company are free to play with shiny new talent trees all they like, for example, but for the first time the decisions regarding Battle.net implementation, Real ID, and plans for the general acquisition of new players for the business are no longer in Blizzard’s own hands, and that’s not going down too well.”

This needs to be reported on, even if it is just a rumor. Activision is forcing this down Blizzards throat. I say it’s time for people to rise up and support Blizzard.

July 8, 2010 at 11:52 am
(21) Tony aka Sevenshadows of Alexstrasza says:

Canceled 2 accounts after 4 years with Blizzard, I will not allow someone to sell me out.

July 8, 2010 at 11:54 am
(22) Thalia says:

Heh, I was the one who made the deleted post in comment 6 on the Blizzard forums earlier today, and that post resulted in a permanent ban from said forums for “releasing privileged information”.

Damage control is in full force at the moment over at Blizzard HQ, it would seem. On the plus side, this takes away any worries about the unwanted use of my real name on the message boards (although I had already cancelled my subscription anyway, so that was moot).

July 8, 2010 at 11:56 am
(23) Wendy says:

“So what’s next, Blizzard? Real Names on the Armory as well?”

This is what scares me more than anything. I don’t post on the forums, and even if I did, my name is fairly common. However, I am still concerned about the safety of others that do post, especially women. I am not going to cancel my account just yet, but I will do so if the slippery slope continues. I believe many people in this world are good, but all it takes is one psychopath to find out your address. I truly hope it doesn’t take something drastic to get Activision/Blizzard to change their minds on this.

Thank you for writing this article.

July 8, 2010 at 12:00 pm
(24) FormerWorldofWarcraftPlayer says:

As a former long time WoW player (4 years) and advocate for anonymization of the internet, I find Blizzard lack of moral ethics appalling. On top of all this, several times they have stated one thing and have done another. A good example of this is Blizzard webpage on RealID. It states that is a completely optional feature so you can connect with your real life friends/family. Going from that to its mandatory that you use it when posting on the forums is not only a slap to the face of its PAYING customers, its a violation of trust to the public.

Even though I am not a customer of Activision/Blizzard anymore (and very much will never be if this change takes place), I submitted a formal complaint to the ESRB and urge EVERYONE to do the same. Let them face the pressure not only from its current customers (which they are blatantly disregarding) but also legal action from the ESRB. Lets see how many warfronts Activision/Blizzard are willing to fight to keep this change

July 8, 2010 at 12:02 pm
(25) FormerWorldofWarcraftPlayer says:

Heres the link to file a complaint with the ESRB

https://www.esrb.org/privacy/contact.jsp

July 8, 2010 at 12:11 pm
(26) Tulani says:

I agree with everything. This pretty much sums up everyone’s sentiments in a succinct statement. I feel betrayed, as a woman and as a human being, that a company would do this. Part of me is still trying to have faith in Blizzard, but it’s very difficult. I already cancelled my subscription, and judging by the uproar, I’m not the only one.

Even if it’s only .05% of their playbase that leaves over this, then in their own words, “it’s only the beginning.” They are committing suicide. I just hope someone can save them before it’s too late.

July 8, 2010 at 12:20 pm
(27) Todd says:

Thank you for covering this from the player’s perspective. The news outlets only regurgitate Activision/Blizzard’s press releases.

It looks like Activision/Blizzard has taken a page from Obama’s playbook; enact policy even though the majority is against it.

I will no longer post on the WoW forums once RealID goes into effect. If RealID becomes mandatory for “in-game” activities, I will cancel my subsription.

July 8, 2010 at 12:49 pm
(28) Tom says:

This is not just the forums. You can access real-id within the game:

/run for i=1,100 do if BNIsSelf(i)then BNSendWhisper(i,”RealID whisper from yourself..”);break end end

Paste that into a chat box and press enter.

You’ve already been violated.

July 8, 2010 at 1:04 pm
(29) Teresa says:

If something can bring Blizzard down its top position in the MMO is this move, the greed, the feeling of betrayal that we, as clients and players feel. I do not play WoW to go “social”, I do because I wanna kill internet dragons.

I will quit WoW. I think my husband will appreciate it anyway.

July 8, 2010 at 1:41 pm
(30) Jim says:

Remember, report it to ESRB but also report it to EFF! Not that EFF can really do anything about it, but it’s more heat to bring down on Activision Blizzard over this proposal.

http://www.eff.org
information@eff.org

July 8, 2010 at 2:37 pm
(31) Ryan says:

I’m tempted to renew my WoW subscription, just so I can cancel it again…

July 8, 2010 at 4:27 pm
(32) John Smith says:

LOL…bunch of whiny babies that can’t handle the lack of anonymity

July 8, 2010 at 5:16 pm
(33) MaryMaryMary says:

Mary would like you to believe that the world is there to hurt you…Hey Mary…you post your name along with your articles…do people spend the time to hunt you down? my gosh…how do you function in the real world? Do you live under a rock or something? So someone gets your name…if they are willing to inflict bodily harm onto you then there are places for ppl like that to be put…why is it so hard for you to lose grip on total anonymity? If you have a friend, or part of a guild, do you not provide them your name, e-mail, other info? Take the tin foil hat off and stop being so paranoid as to believe everyone is out there to get you…my gosh…

July 8, 2010 at 6:08 pm
(34) My Info, My Rules says:

John smith says: LOL…bunch of whiny babies that can’t handle the lack of anonymity.

I’m glad that you have zero value for your privacy and personal information.

Yet I notice you using a common name and not providing further details.

If Activision actually goes through with this, look for a massive falloff in WoW subscriptions. The WoW-killer will not be another game. It’ll be their own hubris.

See: Netscape, Osborn Computers, Post Jobsian Apple Computers, Word Perfect….need I go on?

July 8, 2010 at 6:09 pm
(35) Mary Landesman says:

Actually, I do have problems with crazy people on occasion, directly as a result of having a public profile. One of the first symptoms of a possible problem is when someone cross posts an ad hominem attack using different aliases.

Funny too, that someone who is complaining about people wanting to preserve anonymity would try to disguise their own identity as John Smith or MaryMaryMary.

I see you’re really from the 754th Electronic Systems Group, in Alabama. Huh. Gunter Air Force Base, right?

July 8, 2010 at 8:30 pm
(36) Healadins R Us says:

Blizzard isn’t listening.
So I voted with my wallet.
Thank you for playing World of Warcraft, and we hope you enjoyed your stay in Azeroth. All credit card information has been removed from the account (redacted) as of July 8, 2010 5:17:28 PM, so no further billing will be processed on this account unless payment information is manually re-entered. Your account will remain accessible for play until August 3, 2010 12:33:24 PM, when the remaining pre-paid time expires.
I am a woman. I have children. I have a very unique name. I can be found easily on the net. Too easy. I cancelled the account because of RealID. I will let the gms know in game as well.
Blizzard is not listening. They don’t understand or worse – they don’t care. After all, when you sign the TOS and Eula, you release them from all liability. *eyeroll*
As soon as the class action suit starts, I’m all over it!

July 8, 2010 at 8:56 pm
(37) Real Stupid ID says:

This has to be the most idiotic thing a video game company has ever done.
Not only does this game have a very large amount of children playing, they also have undoubtedly the largest female audience playing the game.
Then you have people with very unique names, ethnic names etc, all very susceptible to various dangers such as stalking, public discrimination, child abuse and so forth.
This is simply an unacceptable risk for playing a videogame in my opinion and as therefore have canceled my account, my wife is still contemplating terminating hers.
One thing is for sure though, the damage has been done. Even if they were to reverse this insanity, they have already revealed their true colors to the world, and what they think of their paying customer base. They couldn’t even pay me to play this game anymore.

July 8, 2010 at 10:57 pm
(38) DrunkinWoWhick says:

Just FYI I’m pretty certain that some way some how this violates the law, I have been in contact with a buddy of mine in law school who is interning with a very prestigious law firm

If anyone has any knowledge of any SPECIFIC statutes that are violated by this please let me know and I will pass it on to him for potential class-action possibility

July 8, 2010 at 11:38 pm
(39) Patient says:

Just a lit facet of all of this I found disturbing.

If you do wish to opt-out of their new information gathering scheme. This is what happens:

“If for any reason you are concerned with the way we are using your personal information, or would like to correct or request that we delete such personal information, please contact Blizzard Entertainment Privacy Policy, Attention: Privacy Policy Administrator, at 16215 Alton Pkwy. Irvine CA 92618-3616. You can also contact us by e-mailing us at privacy@blizzard.com.

Please note that the deletion of your data will lead to the termination of your account and applicable services.

So in other words, if you do not like it, you cannot play. That is hardly the type of language someone concerned with their privacy wants to hear after investing thousands of dollars and thousands of hour with their service based product.

July 8, 2010 at 11:57 pm
(40) Dimichan says:

Well, household accounts cancelled – putting our money where our mouth is, literally.

Talked to some of our guildies on vent – and several sound like they’ll be joining us.

One spoke to a friend of his who works at Gamestop – and the friend was in the dark as to why he got 75 cancellations for Starcraft preorders today. The impact is definitely spreading, just hoping it will be enough to make the point that most of the players do not want this.

July 9, 2010 at 3:00 am
(41) Alley Kat says:

An old friend just invited me back to WoW and I was seriously considering rejoining until I found all this out, oddly through another game’s forums that I DO play. As a female gamer I find this completely unacceptable behavior by any respectable company.

Spoke with a colleague earlier today who I recently learned played WoW and was talking with her about it, and she didn’t even know!

Needless to say, Blizzard/Activision/Vivendi can count on never having any of my $$ ever again.

On a side note, my co-worker canceled her account today.

July 9, 2010 at 2:51 pm
(42) Mary Landesman says:

You have been heard. Blizzard has rescinded plans to publish real names in forum posts.
Official blue post here.

The solidarity of the players was an amazing thing to watch unfold. /gg all.

July 13, 2010 at 10:35 am
(43) someone says:

They have stopped the plans for now but they weren’t going to be introduced until the new cata forums went up and they still might do that

August 28, 2010 at 8:09 am
(44) Winter says:

Add me to the class action too. Please.

February 13, 2012 at 10:58 pm
(45) Friday says:

As I posted in the WoW forum:

Being forced to have full names displayed in realid is asking for trouble from a stalker/child molester perspective and Blizz should either remove it (or provide an option like ‘do not display real name’), or be forced to remove it legally.

It’s a quintessential privacy, safety/security issue, most especially in an environment of over 12 million strangers.

I’m sure Blizz doesn’t need reminding that, like it or not, children do play WoW (how about the 5 year old Raid Leader on youtube?) and their safety should be paramount before their profits.

Being able to keep in touch with in-game friends across realms is a great function, but they’ve pushed the envelope way too far in this instance. Revealing private information like full name is a personal choice, and not Blizz’s right to enforce.

There is such a thing as International Privacy Laws, relevant to many countries (most especially Australia), which Blizz is blatantly thumbing their noses at in regards to this matter. There is NO excuse, Blizzard, for what you’re doing.

@ Sokthuga: ‘real friends’ in an online game does NOT automatically translate to ‘real life friends’ in the real world, and should not be assumed to translate as such.

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