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.
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.