claims it had
good intentions when it collected the names and email addresses of some of
its users without their knowledge or consent. But the act has brought the
gaming firm a storm of criticism from users and privacy advocates.
In what it described as an effort to help users who were having trouble
logging on to play its Starcraft game, the company collected the
information from the registries of Windows computers when log-on requests
"We didn't want people to get frustrated at us and wind up not playing,"
said Blizzard spokeswoman Susan Wooley. "By collecting people's names and
email off the Windows registries, we were able to contact them and find out
what was the matter."
Players' difficulties stemmed from an antipiracy measure in Starcraft that
assigns each game buyer a unique number called a "CD key." If two users try
to use a copy with the same key simultaneously, access is denied. While the
key system is designed to prevent illegal copies of the game, Blizzard
received complaints from "a handful" of users who said they were being denied
access even though they possessed legitimate copies.
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Blizzard collected the names over a seven-day period and did not keep them,
according to Wooley. That's why the company does not know how many
names it collected.
Privacy advocates criticized Blizzard and said the case demonstrated not
only the privacy hazards of a networked world, but also the failure of lawmakers
to keep up with technological advances.
"Legally, the problem we're currently dealing with in the online world is
that there are very few legal standards that protect privacy," said David
Sobel of the Electronic Privacy Information
Center. "We're dealing with technology that enables companies to be
very invasive, that gives companies the ability to come into your home and
rifle through your file cabinet. We need to develop the legal protections
to keep pace with those kinds of innovations."
Users in Blizzard.net's technical support
forums weighed in on both sides of the issue. Some defended the
company's attempts to ferret out pirates. But others voiced concerns about
the company's actions.
"Personally, I don't like the way that Blizzard has handled the CD key at
all," wrote one forum participant. "I paid my 40 bucks, I want my game to
work. I DON'T want anyone looking into my computer. It never says in the
license stuff, 'Oh, and by the way, you make a mistake, and we get your
Blizzard today released a statement explaining its action. Wooley said the company would not collect names without consent again.