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Firm sued in privacy flap

A California nonprofit organization sues gaming company Blizzard Entertainment for electronically collecting users' email addresses.

A California nonprofit organization has sued gaming company Blizzard Entertainment for electronically reaching into players' computers and collecting their email addresses.

Blizzard acknowledged that it had collected the information from the registries of Windows computers when players' log-on requests for the Starcraft game failed.

Many game players were incensed when they found out what happened. But Blizzard spokeswoman Susan Wooley had said the company collected the names for a good reason--to contact people who could not log on.

Wooley today said she could not comment on the suit, filed Monday in San Francisco Superior Court.

"We have been notified papers have been filed," Wooley said. "We have not been served. We cannot discuss matters in litigation."

Regardless of why Blizzard collected the information, the gaming company technically broke the law when it did so, according to the suit filed by Albany, California, attorney Donald Driscoll on behalf of Intervention Incorporated--a nonprofit corporation whose mission it is to protect consumers from unlawful business practices and false advertising, Driscoll said.

Blizzard, the suit states, "is engaged in an unlawful, unfair, and fraudulent business act and practices within the meaning of the Business and Professions Code 17200."

Blizzard acknowledged that it collected the names over a seven-day period, but said it did not keep them.

Intervention is not asking for damages--instead, it is calling for Blizzard to refund money to customers who demand it; for Blizzard to be prevented from uploading "any information other than that necessary to the function of the Starcraft game"; and for the firm to update the game without the code that allows it to gather private information from its customers' computers. It also calls for Blizzard to pay attorneys' fees.

The idea isn't just to fix this problem but to send a message to all programmers, Driscoll said.

"I think there is a broader goal here," he said. "I think the trapdoor in Starcraft represents a major development problem. You buy software that functions over the Internet and anybody could put in code that will upload any information they want from your computer.

"Frankly, it's the first lawsuit in what one day may be a common area of information," he added. "It's kind of a warning shot to the industry that they have to think about the law."