The day the Internet won

It was an interesting week on the issue of privacy concerns on the Internet. Power-hitter Blizzard Entertainment announced that their online forums, battle.net, would make a switch so that all of the user names on the forums would use the RealID system, meaning that your real name would display as your user name instead. As in, your real life name. RealID was originally supposed to be a cross-platform communications tool between Blizzard’s online games in which friends could chat with each other, with the catch that using it would make you opt in to show your real name to people you were friends with. The keyword here is “optional.” When Blizzard announced it was going to be mandatory on the forums, there was an uproar.

The ploy behind this change, Blizzard tells us, was apparently to combat the “trolling” that is ever-prevalent on their online forums. It was their belief that if everyone was displaying their real life names, it would not give people the mask of anonymity to hide behind, and instead people would be forced to treat people like human beings. Of course no one bought that, and anyone who lives and breathes the Internet (especially the video game culture) absolutely know that this was a terrible idea. Sans the whole privacy concerns, but this would be opening up a whole new can of worms.

There have been plenty of excellent arguments against this issue, so I will not bother repeating myself, mostly because the cause has been won. That’s right, the Internet has won. While massive backlash is not new to proposed updates or features to video games from the video game community, this is, quite possibly, the first time the developers actually take a step down from their podium and take a bow saying, “Alright, you win.” Blizzard, only four days after announcing the change, has decided that the RealID implementation on the forums won’t go through.

But how did we get to this point? I mean, people have signed petitions before on the topics of Left 4 Dead 2, Starcraft II LAN, and even Modern Warfare 2 servers and then some, but the companies never budged then. Not even when the backlash was as bad as it is for Blizzard (although to be fair, there’s a sheer volume more of complaints coming in than for the previously-mentioned causes). I’ll tell you how it was won; by the very thing Blizzard thought they were going to combat by bringing in RealID. That’s right, “trolling” did its work.

It started with a blog post by some unknown at WoWriot.com. Bashiok, a Blizzard Community Manager, decided to share with everyone his real full name in a sign of good faith—that it was a testament that nothing bad could come of it. Instead, the exact opposite happened. Through the not-so-complicated tools of Google, someone was able to find where he lived, his phone number, his family, and his Facebook. Of course the problem with this? It wasn’t even the real Bashiok at first. It was some other guy who happened to share the unfortunate fate of having the same name as the Community Manager. People didn’t care, however. Who ever he is, he’s since deleted his Facebook and has blocked his number from receiving calls.

It didn’t stop there, however. People eventually found the real Bashiok with his real Facebook and phone number—both of which have been deleted and have been blocked. When that happened, Blizzard announced a new break that RealID wouldn’t apply to Blizzard employees. That, of course, only made things worse. It spiraled out of control when they started to undertake the opportunity to expose all Blizzard and Activision employees with their real-life private information, making readily available pictures, phone numbers, and addresses of friends, family, and even spouses. Most of the Facebooks and phone numbers have since been deleted and blocked.

The very actions Blizzard set in motion that they wanted to combat against only drew the ire of the dredges of online society to react in a very negative way, proving a simple point; you cannot stop what you cannot control. With the considerations of how easy it was to find such information from employees simply because their names were actually out in the open already, one has to wonder how easy it would have been for players to do the very same to each other if one ever looked wrong at the other. And it’s not like as if the fear is misplaced. While it was a win for privacy, it was won in a very dirty way. Hopefully a lesson was learned out of this, however, especially when it comes to making decisions on issues as big as this. Just remember that it’s a dangerous place out there—in here—on the Internet, so go forth well-equipped.

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About Agamemnon
Started blogging back in 2007 amidst that whole Hellgate: London fiasco on a blog known as flagshipped.com. Eventually moved on to do my own thing in December 2008 at gameriot.com and started Caveat Emptor there. Wrote there for six months, gained some notoriety, and then left. Now I'm back.

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