Is privacy going the way of the dodo?

Say it ain't so!

Well, it’s official. Anonymity is on its way out on the internet. Recently, Blizzard Entertainment announced the RealID system for the World of Warcraft MMORPG. The stated idea of the system as to provide a social aspect to the game. If that was what they intended, they failed miserably. What they have created, is a firestorm of protests as well as a drop in subscriptions. Of course, since they had about 20 million subscriptions, they likely didn’t CARE if they lost a few hundred thousand to poorly implemented ideas. Though given their backdown, maybe they did care a little.

On the surface, RealID is not a bad idea. The concept is fairly simple. Take a new WOW player. In order to subscribe, that player must create a account. This allows them access to the game. They also are allowed access to the game forums. Now I don’t know about you, but I avoided the WOW forums after the second day I played the game. It was flame, troll or die, all day, every day. Any time someone asked a serious question, they got hit with so much spam it wasn’t funny at all. But to create their account, they have to give their real first and last names, the same ones they used to pay for the game. So… Unless you have a very good fake ID with credit attached… You have to use your real information. Hence the title, RealID. And these names will show up in game. (If the player chooses – it’s optional in-game – Ed.)

Now the internet is not a nice place, we all know that. We may not like it, but there isn’t a lot we can do about it. Some people seem to think that as long as no one knows who they really are, they can act as they wish, be as insulting, rude, crude or socially unacceptable as they wish with no repercussions. They can use racial slurs, sexual innuendos, or any other things they wish with no fear of repercussion. They can threaten, they can intimidate, they can do anything they want, because they are anonymous. And hey, it’s not real, right? Who cares if some people take it seriously, they are just nuts, right?

Not really. The entire concept of privacy on the internet is laughable to say the least. Any information that anyone has ever transmitted online is out there, somewhere. The whole idea of stalking has been taken to a new low by the internet. With so much information available online, it is easier than ever for perverts and creeps to get hold of what they want. Where once they had to go through people’s trash to find out the addresses for their targets, now they surf Facebook and other such social sites. That is one reason that I don’t use Facebook. So, now Blizzard had decided to implement such a ‘service’ themselves.

Ok, how about an example? A divorced woman with two abused kids is in a new home far from her ex husband who liked to hurt all three of them when he got drunk. She has been hiding from him since she escaped. She likes to play WOW and she plays as a new character with friends that her husband knows. Suddenly, her information changes in game, and her real name pops up over her character. And guess who is there, sending her a nice, private message? ‘See you soon’. What can the cops do to keep the ex from harassing her in a game? Nothing. What can Blizzard do? Why should they care? It’s not their problem, it’s hers.

Harassment is nothing new. It has been around since humans started coming down from the trees and likely will for as long as the species is in existence. Many humans seem to have a deep rooted need to dominate others. Of course in real life, there are laws against such things now, for good reasons. Harassment can lead to worse crimes. It is degrading, humiliating and just plain wrong. And no, it doesn’t just happen to women, or gays, or people who are not of mainstream religions. It happens every single day, to many different people. And on the internet it happens every minute, every second probably. Because there is no accountability.

Blizzard was attempting to instill some of that accountability into its game. They have backed off of it now, probably due in no small part to the overwhelmingly negative response that they got from their customers after the announcement. RealID is still in the game, but now, it is optional, as opposed to mandatory. Of course all a player has to do is download a utility called GameStore to access it anytime. But that may be a bug. We HOPE it’s a bug…

It was and is an interesting idea. But the concept of allowing other people, strangers, to view so called ‘private’ information cuts deep into the heart of many gamers. We want to feel we are safe, even if it is an illusion. We want to have fun in games, not worry about our identities being stolen or worry about being harassed or stalked in real life. We want the illusion of privacy that we cling to online to be secure.

In closing, I will say this. The internet is still very much a Wild West type of environment at the moment. People can say anything and do anything. The worst that can happen is that they are banned from a forum. So they make new account and come back worse than ever because now they are mad. But this is liable to change. New laws are making their way laboriously through the process of being approved by state and federal authorities that will tighten the strictures that are so lax on the internet. Just as law and order eventually tamed the Wild West, laws will eventually tame much of the internet. While there likely will be trolls, flamers and fools with causes as long as there are humans, with less freedom to inflict their cruelty on others, they will become a nuisance as opposed to a normal thing. And it cannot be soon enough for me.

Over to you: if an online game required you to show your real name, would you play it?


  1. Fang Langford says

    I’m not sure if there is any point in commenting here. You probably won’t like what I have to say. It’s likely, when your older or have a better relationship with a woman, you may come to understand what I have to say.

    First of all, a lot of what you wrote is based on myths and unconscious sexism. For example, the idea that the anonymity provided by the internet gives nice people the license to be bad. This has been clearly proven untrue in a number of studies. What was shown was that rude and disrespectful people are rude and disrespectful online. Another myth is that accountability will affect these people; it will not. If it does not in real life, why should it on the internet?

    Now I’m just guessing here, but I bet you are a white male in his mid to lower twenties. How do I know? Because of how you interact with women in your bias in this article. On the one hand, you seem to be saying that everything should be equal and on the other that they are victimizeable.

    What you aren’t taking into account is that world-wide, white males live in such a world of privilege and entitlement that they are rarely aware of what they benefit from. One common example (not involving you) is ‘the date’; men generally feel they are entitled to sex after an expensive night on the town. Rarely do they follow the logic that if the night was fun, fun might continue between two consenting adults.

    Now I’ve heard all the arguments to the contrary so don’t bother if you don’t believe you are included. You have to admit that this example does happen and isn’t uncommon. Because of that, virtually all women have to ‘be on guard’ for this kind of entitlement. Even if you really are ‘a nice guy’.

    What does that have to with WoW? Plenty. Remember those people who are rude in game or out? Online they don’t have to deal with realities of human presence; they will jump to the conclusion that if a girl is nice to them (even just by talking to them – I’ve seen it happen), they are entitled to treat her however they want.

    Would you like it if, just because you gave someone directions, they hound you every second they are online. That kind of harassment is often unknown to white males, but happens almost daily to a female of any kind in WoW. How do most deal with it? Blocking them does not work; they make alts. Reporting them does not work if they don’t literally threaten; WoW doesn’t care about how often someone bugs you unless they openly threaten you. Heck, most of the time, the GMs won’t even do something when the harassment is sexual (happens regularly to my wife).

    Why does this happen? White male privilege. Since they aren’t harassed, they don’t believe it’s a problem. Since nobody sexually harasses them, they don’t understand how it goes beyond annoying into hurtful. You probably have no idea they way people treat legitimate Chinese players because of the myths surrounding gold farmers. To a white male it doesn’t happen. And unless he is emotionally intimate with a woman who does play these games, he can’t really form a realistic perspective on the whole concept of harassment.
    They other problem showing in this article has to do with logical fallacy arguments. For example, just because it is possible (not matter how difficult or expensive) to dig up everything about someone’s identity; it is assumed that you might as well forget protecting it. Again, privilege creates this idea that ‘if it doesn’t happen to me, it doesn’t happen’. Since the privileged have many protections already in place, many of these are invisible to those who benefit from these protections. Free access to the law, law enforcement and fair treatment under the law (these are not as available to women and minorities as you probably believe).

    Taken all together, this means this article seriously misunderstands the possibilities and importance of privacy to second class people (those who are not white males). It affirms the myth that ‘nice guys’ will do badly when online (because there is a sense of privilege to the anonymity) and that this cannot be stopped where the internet connects to real life; and therefore nothing can be done about it. And that the only thing to be done is personally accountability (another myth).

    The main problem with RealID is that the only way left to those who are harassed without privilege to escape, by playing alts, is removed on the pretext of accountability for people who aren’t affected by such threat. If you friend someone, even accidentally, RealID will let them know whenever you are on no matter what all you play. This makes it completely impossible to escape someone who spams you with disgusting and indirectly threatening sexual comments short of starting a new Battlenet account.

    I understand how hard it is to imagine things without white male privilege, but try this: imagine a southern Baptist or a Catholic (whichever you don’t agree with) who spams you day and night with religious screeds trying to convert you. Now imagine that it felt like a death threat or a prison rape threat too. Hard to ignore? Yes. Hard to forget? Yes. Disturbing? Yes. Would it make it hard to play? Yes. Now you’re out the cost of WoW, BC and WotLC because this jerk won’t give you a break. Imagine having to deal with that EVERY WEEK.

    This is what privacy protects women from. This is why women will only friend RL friends and family. It should be obvious that a woman knowing the name of her stalker won’t help at all; so the ‘accountability’ excuse fails. This is why nobody wants their real name (and all their alts) ‘outed’ on the forums.

    We already give our real names to get these accounts, what purpose is it that we must surrender the VERY EFFECTIVE privacy that alts provide? Accountability only works AFTER a crime has been committed, by then it’s too late. So no, I wouldn’t play it.

    I realize this is very long and you may not have read this far. I also realize that being a recipient of white male privilege, it is very easy for you to disagree with any of this. However, I believe that you might just consider it without a flaming or refuting.. Someday when you have a better understanding of these issues and which are myths, you will appreciate the time I’ve taken to expose these issues. If otherwise and this falls on deaf ears, if you simply don’t believe this, or if you simply don’t care to think about it, I won’t be hurt by that. I can only try.

    Besides, isn’t impossible to change someone else’s opinion on the internet?

    • You may not believe this, but I agree with you completely. I guess when I wrote this that I was not clear. I am TOTALLY against surrendering what little privacy we have online.

      That said, I AM a white male. I am 38 and have had several relationships in my life. Two of them with women who had previous problems with people who could not understand the word ‘No’.

      If I gave the impression that I was thinking that Blizzard was doing a good thing, I apologize for that. I disagree completely with what they proposed. Just the idea of making people use their real names in an online games gives me goosebumps. The problems that would result would be mind boggling. We play games to get away from real life. To have our real life info broadcast to the world, well… I don’t think that is a good idea.

      What I DO think is that sooner or later the internet will get SOME kind of accountability. Will it be easy? No. Will it be fast? No. Will people scream, yell, rant and rave? Of course they will.

      There is a deep rooted need in some people, many on the internet it seems, to hurt others, to dominate them. And the internet allows people to find information faster and easier than ever before. This can be a good thing, and a bad one.

      As always it boils down to the person behind the keyboard. Ifs that person looking to have a good time with his or her friends? Or is that person looking for a target to harass or worse? And I speak as someone who has been harassed by internet spammers and stalkers myself. It DOESN’T just happen to women.

      I don’t like a lot of what I see on the internet. I for one, don’t like hurting people even with words, typed or otherwise. If I gave the impression that I do, I apologize.

      ((PS this is why I don’t do Facebook. I made an account for a class and got friends from EVERYWHERE. Including three people I know for a fact were gold spammers in WOW. On the surface, it’s great idea. Take a deeper look and all kinds of problems start showing.))