Online Privacy And Why It’s Important

There’s been a lot of talk recently about online security and privacy, particularly directed at Blizzard. Although these issues affect every MMORPG, World of Warcraft is the most popular and thus most susceptible to the issues of account hacking and our rights of privacy.

Body Scanners - The new WoW Authenicator

Body Scanners - The new WoW Authenicator

Although WoW account hacking seems to be on the rise, it’s a minor concern to me and one I’m not actually that bothered about it. At the end of the day, the principle of hacking relies on security flaws in a system or how educated the user is in avoiding scams and attempts to get them to willingly reveal their password. Both of these things can be dealt with and don’t seem to lead to any deep moral quandaries. My real concern, however, is our privacy.

As you probably know, Blizzard recently made their WoW Armory feeds public. This means that anyone and everyone can view a list of your in-game achievements and accomplishments. Big whoop, right? Not quite. This apparently innocent feature has caused quite a storm and lead many to deride Blizzard for invading our personal privacy.

The scariest thing to me though is how the act itself is indicative of a lack of responsibility by those we should be trusting. We are entering a world in which everything we do is monitored and logged and we have to trust companies to be responsible with our information.

Let me explain. As a web programmer, I know a fair bit about the workings on the Internet and here a few tidbits of information that may shock you (although they’re probably/should be common knowledge).

  • Everything you do online is logged by your ISP. They keep logs of all of your incoming and outgoing traffic as well as a history of every website you visit.
  • Your ISP can monitor and read the emails you send.
  • Your email hosting company logs emails received and can read them.
  • Depending on the country you live in, websites you visit are first matched against a blacklist of sites before providing you access. The number of attempts to access the site are logged along with possibly even your IP address.

Pretty freaky, right?

Now, it may seen innocent enough when Blizzard are revealing your WoW activities to the general public but what if your ISP decided to create a publicly viewable RSS feed of every website you visit? How would you feel about that? Or what if they just decided to start checking your emails and posting them online? It doesn’t seem that unlikely consider Google already scan the content of your GMail emails in order to generate specifically targeted ads and British ISPs have come under fire for trying to implement behavioral targeting services based on your Internet activies.

This is the classic argument of “don’t reveal my private information” vs “if you don’t have anything to hide, why do you care”. Fact is, I know that my activities and information are tracked online and it doesn’t bother me. That’s not my issue. My issue is that it should my choice as to whether or not it’s revealed.

This issue with the WoW Armory reminds me a lot of the Facebook scandal last year when they decided to make everyone’s profiles publicly searchable. These matters boil down to trust between the user and the facilitator and, frankly, companies need to behave in a responsible manner if they’re going to hold on to personal and private information about us all.

P.S. Even your cell phone text messages are logged and stored for several weeks by your provider. Creepy stuff.

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4 Comments

  1. Fremskritt says:

    Every time Blizzard decides to publicize more information on the Armory there is an outcry, which dies down after a while, until the next time they decide to increase the amount of information again. What I think is weird is that in between nobody seems to care. I see no campaigns for the removal of the information, or for an option to opt out.

    I consider this the worst issue about the whole Armory debacle, the fact that people are very vocal about it when it happens, but somehow don’t seem to bother anymore once the storm dies out. The failure to put actual pressure on Blizzard means that they feel free to continue to put up more and more information, since they know that the outrage will die down within weeks.

    You did put things into a nice perspective though, personally I don’t think that my characters, which by no means can be tracked to myself unless people know me personally, really need a lot of privacy. I am basically hiding behind my avatar names. What ISPs are doing is much worse IMO, and where’s the outrage about that?

    • Gordon says:

      I don’t think the information that Blizzard are publishing is really important or something I care about. To be honest, I’ll probably link through to my Armory profiles from this site at some point. I guess the issue is more one of responsibility and how it’s a slippery slope. It’s not a problem with Blizzard but it would be a huge problem if it was with your ISP and your emails from instance. Just because a company can publish your info, doesn’t mean they should.

  2. Eric says:

    What strikes me are the attacks on the wow forum by those who do not mind that this information is published onto those who do mind. I mean, it wouldn’t hurt the pro-camp if it would be optional to publish this information. And if they claim it would hurt them, because they cannot access all profiles in full, it would be even more reason for me to make this feature optional to be honest.

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