Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Privacy in our Brave New World

I played for World of Warcraft for quite a while and enjoyed it greatly. Some of the people who were in various guilds with me, I still keep up with through occasional emails even. But I was always careful about the information I gave out, being aware of the risks of information security in our day and age. One feature of WoW has always been a fairly unpleasant experience on the forums. Trolls and flamebaiting are the norm. Most players simply don't bother to post there unless it's necessary or they really enjoy 1)trolling or 2)yelling at trolls.

However, Blizzard has just announced that in order to combat the forum trash, they are going to be using a new RealID system which will no longer allow you to post as one of your toons, but rather will put your name on every post. As in, your real life full name.

This has set off quite a storm as many argue that this is clearly setting up for all kinds of trouble. Privacy issues abound with many worrying about what information others might get, what ramifcations are possible, and even what this means for female gamers who are already stalked on occasion by zealous players. The biggest argument that those for this change have put forward is that you really can't get much of anything from just a name. Enter the poor Blizzard employee who volunteered his full name, assuring the masses that nothing was wrong with the system. The information gathered on him in only 5 minutes should serve as a warning of the power of the internet.

Sadly, most of the Gen-Y types who have grown up on Facebook and Myspace seem to have no concept of just how much information about them is available and how it can be used against them. In this instance, I want to say "Eh, it's a game." But it's more. It's a mentality that allows access to information that strangers have no business having. This poor Blizzard employee, who closed the thread after too much information about him was posted, is undoubtedly wishing he could take back that post. Anyone who cares now knows his entire family, address, phone number, pics of him, as well as several traffic violatations he has committed. And all from giving a name out on a forum.

I know we live in a world where it's more and more difficult to maintain privacy. But the willingness of so many to give others such power over them is truly saddening to me. Again, Wow is just a game. But if we are willing to let our privacy erode like this just to play a game, then how much will we be willing to let it slip for things that really matter to us? How much more will we compromise?

1 comment:

Nomad said...

On a purely practical standpoint, users should ALSO be aware that Human Resources people LOVE this kind of info and Google for it incessantly. That means, if you apply for a job with MomCo, you can expect your use of WarCraft to be fair game in the interview. There are a number of cited examples where individuals were denied a job because of the appearance of excessive use of online resources in MMORPGs.

At the same time, this kind of step is likely being taken in response to abusive activity by users hiding behind pseudonyms. Unless we police ourselves, we can expect more companies to take a similar tack in the days ahead.