News of Blizzard--the publisher behind the highly addictive game "World of Warcraft"--scanning players' computers for cheat software has players up in arms. Blizzard asserts they are only scanning hard drives for known hacks that let players cheat in the game, and that they have no interest in whatever personal information may be on users' machines because it bears no relevance to the game itself.
But as many bloggers have pointed out, it's up to players to trust the company on that point, and that's not an easy thing for any privacy advocate to swallow. The thing Blizzard has going for it is that the company has maintained a level of transparency surrounding the issue, a lesson Verant Interactive learned the hard way when it quietly launched a similar program with its popular online game "EverQuest" in 2000. But even the way Blizzard divulges the scanning policy to users is problematic. It appears in the game's End User License Agreement, and who in the world reads EULAs?
Blog community response:
"As someone who has been on the commercial side of these games for almost twenty years, I can tell you that having such a scanner on the players' PCs would be a huge help to finding and banning accounts that use cheat programs. It isn't the end-all and be-all, but as part of a defense-in-depth strategy that includes PC scanning, data-mining alarms and some other techniques I won't talk about here, it would be enormously helpful. And we aren't interested in collecting personal data here; believe me, we'd rather have a root canal every day than be forced to sift through the digital detritus that is the average existence."
"Allowing a company to scan your hard drive in order to use their service? Warcraft is so addictive I can definitely see people putting up with this in order to play. But what if, say, Apple wants to scan your hard drive to see if you have any non-DRM music before you can get songs from iTunes? What if, say, Blockbuster wanted to scan your hard drive for downloaded movies before you could use their website? Should this be legal? Would you allow it?"
"This kind of thinking irritates me to some degree. I can have a lot of sympathy for people who don't read E.U.L.A.s, because they are dense and require lawyers to understand. I'm a smart guy, and groking the myriad terms of a E.U.L.A. is tough for me...These companies intend to be the devil trying to put one past unsuspecting rubes. And then they turn around and try to argue that they aren't the evil because the rubes weren't bright enough to figure out they who was the devil...To me, it's absolutely ludicrous that we expect otherwise in the case of E.U.L.A.s."
--Bits and Pieces of Phil