Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Security Shot in the Back

Why are so many people concerned about their online presence being linked to their real identity?

For myself, it is one major, glaring issue:

I don't trust EVERYONE.

This is different from saying "I don't trust anyone." If I don't trust anyone, then I don't trust my husband, or my mother, or my friends, or my cat who I do talk to about random things as if she can understand everything I say. No, not trusting everyone means that I can trust some people, but I don't trust every single person that might happen across my blog or forum post via links or web searches. There are some seriously insane people out there who go on murderous rampages--or stalkings or harassment--over perceived wrongs online. And it is disturbingly easy to find out information once you have a name... seriously, google yourself. It's good to know where your name pops up and how easy it is to find info about you (BTW, thank you Averna for linking over to that post, it is priceless).
The vast majority of people are ones I wouldn't care about having them know who I am. Those few that would do evil things with the information frighten me into a little ball of paranoia.

I do use RealID for chatting with a few close friends, but this is very different.

Security in Anonymity

I can understand the argument that removing anonymity will result in accountability for one's actions and speech, and in doing so, result in fewer jerks saying things just to get a rise out of people (there will still be some who troll anyway, of course). Hiding behind a level 1 alt won't work anymore: everyone will have to say what they feel with their name tagged to it. Sure, that's all well and good until they are stalked down for voicing their opinion. Even if the vast majority of people are good at heart (or at least abiding by some morals or self-preservation against jail time), that small percentage of the population that are driven to evil acts are enough to cause trouble, sacrificing their future to cause harm to others... and when they know a real name, and can hunt down work and home addresses, it can spill over from what would be online harassment into physical harassment or violence.

That is the benefit of anonymity. The web is a huge communications network, spanning the globe and overcoming time with its ability to store entries until they're deleted, each piece a footprint left behind by the person who posted it, fossilizing if forgotten, until someone stumbles upon it again while digging through your website or web searches. The immense number of people it reaches is far greater than a local newspaper or school flier. WoW itself is only a portion of that enormity, but it is still a large number of people around the globe. We've already seen cases where something as simple as stating one's like for bacon resulted in a threat against the opinionator's family.

Not all "trolls" will go to this extent. It's a relatively tiny amount of the population that will do these horrific acts, and a relatively tiny amount who are victims. There ARE victims, though. Is it worth playing those odds when you have your opinion voiced to the world?


What do you tell the police? "Hey, there's some crazy guy on the internet that's threatening my family." Pretty much, that is all you can do. The internet is still new enough that policy for policing it is still being hashed out, and threats (or even bullying) on the internet have resulted in a huge demand for what are limited resources for policing (nevermind the international boundaries it so easily crosses!). Once things spill over into the physical world, it's much easier to police, but too often it seems to be too late. Beyond the physical, though, even the mental/social jabs can be devastating for some people. I watched a news report not long ago about a girl who committed suicide over bullying on the internet, and I know hers was not a unique case.

Professional "Backlash"

In addition to the more worrisome security issues, there are the more prevalent work-related backlashes. For some bizarre reason, media and society have labeled gaming as a negative thing (I expounded on this topic earlier), stemming from the few cheetoh-encrusted stereotypes living in their mother's basement contributing "nothing" to society, or those few cases where a demented kid went gun-crazy at school and also happened to like playing games Grand Theft Auto or Counter Strike (or even if there wasn't evidence that the maniac played games like that, people will still blame the games). Gaming, as a hobby, is often looked down upon or sneered at by employers to the same extent as having photos of drunken antics publicly viewable. It's not viewed as "professional" or "conventional."

I'm lucky that I work for people who are more likely to bring a Wii into the office than hold gaming against a person, but I know not every office is like that.

As much as it pains me to say, there are simply some professions and employers who will hold it against a potential employee when hiring to find their name posting to a game forum, or against a current employee when it comes to promotions, or even just firing them outright. Even if it's illegal for them to bias against such a hobby, they may still do it "for the company's image," etc. Productivity is called into question, while other hobbies that can be just as (if not more) time-consuming or exhaustive are ignored or applauded. Right or wrong, it does happen. Several other bloggers have already commented on their concern over this particular topic.

In some cases, the player may actually be famous (or infamous) outside of the game. Their ability to become a part of the crowd may be exactly what draws them to the game. Once that is taken away from them, can they really continue to play?

What of Blizzard's Decision?

There is no easy answer to the issue. Trolls will run rampant where there is anonymity, but anonymity also provides a security for the innocent. Are Blizzard's steps towards removing anonymity a right choice? Is this a test run in a large setting, to see what needs to be done to provide protection in a world-wide scale where differing views on religion, race, gender, lifestyle, economic standing, and even diet (the game itself makes a crack at PETA) have sparked physical violence? If it works out, will we see steps taken towards removing anonymity in other games and forums across the internet?

...will someone's hacked account start spewing trollish onto the forums?

...will recruitment more easily pry into a person's real life to judge their worthiness?

...will the game no longer be an escape from reality, at least where the forums and Real_ID are concerned? Will it stop there?

...will similar be enabled when pugging, to stop the cesspit of cruelty that so many groups often become?

...will most people stop posting to the forums completely, even if they have constructive things to offer, out of fear of loosing their secure anonymity? (Lissanna, IceDragon?)

...will fewer people say "girls don't play WoW" after seeing all the feminine names popping up on the forums from those bold enough to do so? Or will many females be more likely to avoid posting simply to hide their gender from the wider community?

Whatever does happen, this is certainly a bold step, given the size of the game's client base and forum useage. If it were JUST to kill the trolls, they could have instated a policy that makes users post under the name of the character they have the highest time-played on that entire account (for that particular game, if a game-specific forum)... just one, single, static character name. But they didn't choose that route.

It makes me wonder why they decided to do this.

"Opt out."

I hope that RealID names are removed from being accessible by addon scripts. I hope there may be a check beyond parental controls that opts for anonymity, flagging you with your top character name rather than your real name. I hope that Blizzard isn't being tempted to these actions by the over-zealous owner of Facebook who seems to believe for some reason that everyone should throw their identity out to the whole world, privacy and security be damned.

I hope it doesn't go further without extreme restrictions being placed upon the security, with the default being an "opt-out" rather than an opt-in.

The forums have been one of the most useful places to go for technical support, but players are less likely to post their problems if their name is attached publicly to it. While it is optional, this change will result in a widespread loss of good guides and the variety of tech-support possibilities.

Recruitment can find new avenues, at least, and very likely will settle onto one of the more popular fansites as the "go-to" for recruitment posting: if an interface like the old World-of-Raids recruitment system is redeveloped, it would probably be extremely popular.

In the meantime, I suggest reconsidering your passwords to your account's email address (16+ characters with numbers, symbols, and caps/lower all included), and getting an authenticator if for some bizarre reason you still haven't purchased one. If your security is going to be questioned, at least put some of these walls up.

A few links to some other good posts on this topic that I haven't already linked:
  • Variant Avatar, mentioning several different aspects of how this impacts the community
  • Too Many Annas, which also suggests some ways you can let Blizzard know you don't approve (just in case they do decide to change their minds)
  • Murloc Parliament, on how it's further limiting the players who will post on the forums (with an amusing representation of a troller before and after)


Beruthiel said...

I am one of those people that fall into "won't use for professional reasons". I work in a field and industry where I think widespread knowledge of my hobby could potentially be harmful to my career, and honestly, it's not worth the risk. What I do in my personal time is my business, and I share my hobbies with those I want to, and will be accepting, and keep them private from those that aren't.

Even Brade, who works IN the gaming industry stated he wouldn't be posting on the forums anymore if this goes live. Because he too could have professional consequences...different concerns from mine, but still valid concerns nonetheless.

I have no idea how I'll recruit when this goes live, but it won't be via the official forums.

I used that "how many of me are there" that Saresa posted, and the answer for me is four. Only three other people in the US share my fairly unique name. I don't think it would be hard to track me down, for an employer...or anyone else.

I'm just not interested in the risks that are going to be present with this change. They are not worth the rewards.

Anonymous said...

I was worried at first, but when I had a good think about, I'm certain it won't happen. Why? Because everyone would switch to unofficial forums in a heartbeat and Blizzard would lose out on a fantastic free advertising platform, on connection with community, and on feedback on their product.
On top of that, can you imagine what would happen if actual harm does start to occur? The bad press, the legal consequences? Good luck btw Blizz with pushing this through the data protection legislation nightmare through all different jurisdictions! No, it won’t happen.
Trolls can be seriously hindered more easily by, for example, a common nick for all characters on one account.

Jardal said...

This really brings the recent quitting of community leaders to my mind again. Was this why?

I'll state this: This will go into place.

For all that they say they're listening and taking our comments to heart, no. It's a white lie meant to placate you.

This was a corporate decision that has been in the works for a while now and it isn't going to go away because people are being loud over it. You can mess around with the numbers enough to show that even with X thousands of posts on the subject less than 1% of the player base is angry about this.

For now, fine, I'm going to unofficial forums. I'm still ok with how RealID is implemented in game and won't be quitting over the forum change. However, it does cause me concern for what may be in the future.

Kae said...

I don't muck around much on the official forums anyway, but that was more due to their relatively toxic atmosphere (in combo with time constraints) than anything else. I post there to help recruitment... and that's unfortunately a big factor that most guild leaders are concerned about.

I agree with Jardal that Blizzard will push through in spite of complaints and force all forum posts to be attached with a real name. There's a disclaimer when posting announcing that the name will be used, which is their protection against lawsuit.

There is something very shady under all of this, and it stinks of corporate politics.

lissanna said...

I put up with all the forum crap for multiple years just because I enjoyed helping people. However, at this point, I'm refusing to give the trolls access to my real life name, phone number and address. I'd rather not be a forum community member and give up my TWO stickies on the WOW forums than have to open myself up to RL harassment by posting on the forums (or possibly risk not getting a job after I graduate from school if my potential employers don't think I take my research seriously enough).

Karmakin said...

I don't think it's corporate politics. Or at least I don't see what the angle could be. Some people are thinking this is for marketing..for obtaining more precise customer information to sell off. I don't see how this gets that. They have the names already. They don't need to make them public to make that information better.

I think that they're being honest with why they're doing this. The designers think that by eliminating anonymity, will increase the quality of the forum community. They're wrong. They see their own guilds and facebook and think...real names help our community, so it should help the wider community right?

No, not really. The goal is realistic accountability. Making it so someone might not be able to get a job, or be stalked is NOT realistic accountability.

The best way they can do things, is to combine anonymity with accountability. And it's the way that Kae mentioned. Change RealID from your real name, to a straight handle type system. Pseudo-anonymity is the best way to do things. It's how the internet WORKS. Your reputation still matters, but it keeps things in perspective.

Alyae said...

Nope, sorry. never posting on the official wow forms again.

Also never going to add anyone to my real id.

Come on blizz, get it right, like NCSoft did way before you.

Assign 1 unique handle to your RealID name, and have that used everywhere. Period.

Funny how Blizz hides personal info in your OWN (YOUR OWN EVEN WHILE EDITING THEM) account settings in case of hackers but all of a sudden it's okay to spread someones real name all over the internet!?!

Give me a break.

Averna said...

I can't imagine that this will go through. I HOPE it doesn't go through.

Good example of how scary it can be:

Kae said...

I saw your link over to that post on your blog, and already edited it into my own :D

Sounds like the affected person hadn't been very careful in covering his net footprints. All too often people think they're safe when they aren't. These are often the same people who publicly twitter about leaving the house for an extended period... "hey, burglars, guess what, you have 3 days to rob it clean!"

My hubby works in IT security. I know paranoia. I'd wipe my real identity clear off the internet if I could, but work websites make that difficult. ><

Anonymous said...

On the subject of international borders & harassment in this electronic age, there is a case here in Oz, where a disabled guy has been used on a hateful US website, basically as target practice for the scum of the earth.

The owners of the site have:
1) pulled the 1st amendment (free speech)
2) and basically told this poor guy & the Oz govt to go screw them selves, because Oz law holds no weight across international borders.

All the guy wants is for the hate site to come down. All the international laws are doing is protecting the evil in our society.

warcraft gold said...

@Averna - that's a very good example, it was that easy huh?! The good thing though is we won the battle over Blizzard real ID thing, they have no choice but to retract or else they'll lose their long time subscribers.