Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Real ID: a bad idea just got worse

Displaying a level of bone-headed stubbornness that would make Garrosh Hellscream blush, it seems that Blizzard have decided to extend their RealID StalkMe system to the WOW forums as well.

The original scheme was dumb enough. Your real name is exposed to anyone you add to your friends list, and anyone who is on any of your friends' friend lists. Random internet nutters will be able to know what you are doing in any of Blizzard's games. Want to log on to an alt for quiet half hour's relaxation to make a change from raiding? Tough luck - you can run, but you can't hide. Want to post a sensible point on the WOW forums without some nerd-rage-fuelled stalker knowing your real name? Tough luck - it's StalkMe or nothing.

What's worse, the system defaults to on and requires an extremely convoluted workaround involving pretending to set up parental access controls. There is no clear or obvious way to disable StalkMe. Apparently there is also a bug which allows your StalkMe info to be passed on to anybody via an addon, friend or not

Was the whole of Blizzard on holiday during the Facebook privacy crisis? Is there truly nobody in the company with enough brainpower* to see the consequences of this? That at some point some random stranger is going to use StalkMe to track down someone they encountered online and harass them in real life.

To see what can go wrong, let's look at what happened when a Blizzard employee (Bashiok) posted his own real name to "prove how safe it is". Oops! Looks like he's had to take down his Facebook page already! For a mere $50 I could buy:

Includes all 2 records for *NAME DELETED* in CA.
Report includes: (when available)
Full NameAddress
Age & DOBPhone Number
RelativesAddress History
Avg. IncomeProperty
Criminal CheckBankruptcies
NeighborsDeath Records

No privacy concerns there, eh?

They've been warned repeatedly by the players about the potential problems. I don't think I've met anyone who actively thinks its a good idea. Views range from apathy to ferocious opposition.

Get a grip, Blizzard:
  • Allow people to display a pseudonym instead of their real name.
  • Make it easy and obvious how to disable StalkMe.
  • Make it default to off, with an active decision to opt in, verified by authenticator, required.
If not, you're heading for some seriously bad publicity and a lot of lost accounts.

* This is probably unfair. I'm sure there are plenty of people within Blizzard who warned of the foolishness of this change. The real question is: what's going on inside the company that caused this advice to be ignored?


There's an excellent post on this at Empowered Fire.

And another one by Larisa.

Yet another one at Escape Hatch.

And at Righteous Orbs.

Still more from Windsoar.

And from Soul Warding.

Kurn is also opposed.

As is Klepasovic.

And Miss Medicina.

Tobold has now weighed in against it too.

As has Shawndra from Escapist Scrawl.

And Endyme.

Spinks is opposed too.

As is KiwiRed, who has also posted an extensive list of posts on the subject.

And Pewter.

Kae too.

More objections at Storm, Earth and Fire.

Gnomeaggedon has cancelled his account.

Ciderhelm at Tankspot calls StalkMe "unethical and dangerous".

Pilf is also opposed.

As is Random.

Shakesville has joined the chorus.

Stylish Corpse describes it as "Fail of the Century".

Dwism simply says: "this is a dumb idea".

Scott Jennings is "not happy with this".

Apple says "Cut the crap, stop forcing us to abandon you in order to maintain some privacy".

Yva describes StalkMe as "a stepping stone for aforementioned cyber bullying and stalking".

Suicidal Zebra is concerned that this is a precursor to "the bait-and-switch, where this 'feature' is dropped but another slightly less offensive one is put in its place".

Kiryn points out that "Blizzard will be violating their own forum code of conduct, which specifically states that releasing personal information about other players is a bannable offense".

Anna says that "I don’t feel safe, both for reasons of hacking and for reasons of stalking/harassment".

Please note that I am not just judiciously selecting blogs that agree with me here. Not One single post on this subject on my blog reader is in favour of this change: that's from Rohan.

Getting the message, yet, Blizzard?


You can complain about this change on the battle.net forum, US WOW forum or EU WOW forum.

Go do it!


  1. Been gone all day...

    I log onto gmail to find my reader exploded with 56 messages... And I'm down to 35 now...

    Major fail Blizz, major fail!

  2. Ok I've always been very clear on where I sit on Real ID (no thanks - basically for the reasons listed above) but at least it's OPTIONAL in-game (I'm assuming this is continuing to be the case...?) 'Forcing' anyone who uses the forums to do so under their real name has to be madness. Surely if the internet as a whole followed this example there would be, without too much of an overstatement, a serious crisis? One of the things people enjoy about the internet is the privacy aspect...?

    Whilst I have never, and probably will never post or get involved on the forums (because I could see my life turning into even more of a WoW-sink than it already is) I cannot fathom what this will achieve?

    And, I would suggest that anyone who has ever had issues with slightly... over-zealous, over-enthused or downright stalker-like players in-game will be close to cancelling their accounts in protest. I've had a few issues with people who won't take nice hints about leaving me alone in-game; this just ratchets up to a whole new level with personal details linked to character details. Bah, my head is throbbing!

    As an aside, and if you want serious blogging heavyweights from the non-warcraft blogsphere weighing in on this try PZ Myers (slight swoonage from me admittedly):


  3. It's actually quite considerate of Blizz - I've been dithering about cancelling my sub until Cata, and not only have they given me the incentive to quit for now, but if realid doesn't get 86'd before the expansion they'll be saving me the price of a new subscription! (It's so thoughtful of them...)

  4. I wouldn't be surprised if you could add passwords to that list of 'details from names'.

    Definite /agree on Pseudonyms rather than real names, although there are so many false positives for me on the internet I shouldn't be worried too much.
    That's the exact idea I was looking for for (yes, on purpose dual for) my blog post about rID. Hopefully it'll be balanced on both sides of it.