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Is World of Warcraft Watching You?
game: World of Warcraft
posted by: Aaron Stanton
publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
view related website
date posted: 02:44 PM Sat Oct 15th, 2005
last revision: 02:57 PM Sat Oct 15th, 2005

Click to read.Cheaters in a massively multiplayer title ruin the game, and companies that develop the software have to guard against them in order to maintain a good user experience for all.

But are they allowed to spy on us? And if so, at what point do we stop taking their word that - Scout\'s honor - they won\'t look at or use the wrong information?

Does Blizzard spy on you?

A recent posting on RootKit.com suggests that Blizzard installs software that watches the personal information of people playing their game. The software is designed to hunt for cheat-ware, but reads the title headings of any window open, regardless of its relation to WoW. The poster reports that he, \"watched the (program) sniff down the email addresses of people I was communicating with on MSN, (and) the URL of several websites that I had open at the time.\"

While what it transmits back to Blizzard is in question, this should give any gamer chills. While Blizzard may be a trustworthy company - I doubt you\'ll find them stealing credit card information from their clients - the frequency of this sort of unauthorized snooping is becoming increasingly common.

A fairly common practice:

In a recent interview, Microsoft\'s Marketing VP Peter Moore commented that the Xbox 360 might update itself automatically, with the user, \"(possibly) not even aware (that it) happens.\"

Considering that the Silver package of the Xbox Live service is standard in every Xbox 360 connected to the Internet, updates - much like the WoW spyware - are unavoidable.

The key factor is that they do so without permission of the user.

Similar elements exist inside of the Windows operating system. Windows Media Player records what video and music clips you\'ve played on your system; Microsoft has said that they have no plans to use or sell this information, but they don\'t deny the right to do so. Outcry against this practice has made the problem more prominent, but certainly didn\'t make it go away.

I personally know of at least one lawyer who is unwilling to use Windows on his office computer because the user agreement gives Microsoft too much access to his confidential information.

The problem is the precedent:

Specific companies aside, there\'s a fairly disturbing trend that seems to make it acceptable for companies to gather information on their customers without the say-so of the customer. Sure, Microsoft and Blizzard may not be collecting the unrelated e-mail and headings of every window you have open on your system, at least not in long term storage, but they\'re setting the precedent for others to do it.

More importantly, it might be illegal for you to stop them:

It is illegal in U.S. law to actively attempt to circumvent a company\'s security systems. You can\'t modify an Xbox because you\'re violating this law. If you find a bug in a major piece of software that makes it vulnerable to hacking, you can\'t tell or publish about it because you\'re spreading the information illegally.

Many people in the forums have asked whether or not spyware programs could locate and block WoW spyware, known as Warden Client. Probably a more important question is whether or not you have the right to.

Considering that Warden Client exists as part of Blizzard\'s anti-hacking systems, it\'s very possible blocking the transmission of that information, or preventing the software from reading the personal information from your e-mail program and web browser, may be considered illegal even if possible.

Doesn\'t it bother you that there\'s even the possibility that a company has a legal right to search your computer for that sort of information, and that you might be violating the law to tell them no?

People in the United States, and else where, must be weary of laws and precedents that put more power into the hands of the companies than they do the consumer. While I don\'t believe that Blizzard or Microsoft is maliciously collecting information about their users, we have to seriously look at this issue and determine now, in clear fashion, what information companies are allowed to look at on our personal computers.

People that shrug their shoulders and declare that they don\'t care, that Blizzard already has their credit card number... they\'re missing the point.

Blizzard\'s not who we should be scared of. It\'s everyone that follows in their footsteps.

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