Tag Archives: privacy

Privacy and the PS4

Christina González is a TAB bicultural Latina. Growing up as a poor gamer with a disabled mother, she naturally gravitates toward social justice and culture topics, as well as community-related issues. She may be found over at christinagonzalez.net or join the conversation on Twitter at @c_gonzalez

Sony kicked off the year of the new console generation (arguably, as the Wii U came out in the fall) with its splashy press presentation last month for the PlayStation 4’s unveiling. While there is much in common between the PS4 and my current PC, I’m still interested enough in the games and promised features to give Sony my attention this year. However, there were some questions raised in the presentation that don’t seem to have clear answers just yet, even weeks after the fact. With the emphasis on integration of our real information and social networks, onboard immediate sharing, and related experiences, there’s potential cause for concern too.

The PS4’s controller comes with a touchpad and a new button labeled “Share”. This will enable gamers to prepare and immediately send and upload short video clips from the games they are currently playing without having to leave the game or make any effort beyond enabling the function. Other features will let others be able to tune in and watch your gameplay or even step in and take over playing for you. Sony praises all of this and the other social features as being what gamers want as well as connecting people more closely, including the ability to help your friends out when they get stuck somewhere. While this is true and could work well among close friends, this and other features named during the presentation make me wonder if they also serve to open vulnerable groups of people up to harassment.

Whether or not you have been harassed in the past, this new emphasis on openness, connectedness, and abundant sharing all bring up privacy concerns at the very least, and danger at worst. Sony also mentioned the use of real names and photos on profiles, drawn from existing social networks (though likely including PS accounts too). I don’t always want to draw attention to my gender when playing. In some spaces it’s easier than others to encounter those who want to make the game (and what little time I have to play) an unpleasant experience. I think about other people who might not want to use real names and photos. Some of my LGBT friends come to mind, as well as fellow minorities. If you’ve ever been asked “What are you?” or taunted with gendered language, you will understand why I might just want to exist as “GamerX” sometimes rather than “Christina Gonzalez” online. It’s not that I am uncomfortable with myself; I’m not. I am strong in my identity, but sometimes you don’t want to be ‘on’ and wish to be taken as a username and never use voice chat.

On occasion, privacy and anonymity becomes a need more than a want. To a more urgent end, this applies to people that need protection from having their real names visible. Someone being bullied at school. Someone that just got away from an abusive partner. Someone who has escaped abuse or violence shouldn’t have to worry about relaxing on the PlayStation with some games and potentially being found and terrorized again.

I’ve searched and paid special attention when reading about the PS4 to see if the privacy options for the console were detailed, but haven’t really found anything that addresses them. Although some are raising questions about how far the reach of streaming will go and whether it’s only to your friends or to the whole internet. I hope that similar privacy options that exist for sites like Facebook will carry over when accessed via the PS4. I know that I keep my Facebook profile pretty locked down for those I haven’t added. This isn’t because I post top secret information (in fact, you’re more likely to find a few corny jokes and pictures of vanity license plates). I have, however, been online before, hacked, and harassed. Thus I choose to be selective and only add people that I know in some capacity.

It’s a good idea for Sony to get in on social functionality. Brilliant, in fact, since that’s where a lot of gamers are going, especially younger ones who are open to a life lived less privately. The ability to easily connect with others online has been invaluable for many gamers in connecting with others who they may have never met otherwise. Hell, I met my boyfriend via online gaming. These services are part of many of our lives now, but that doesn’t mean caution isn’t needed. However, while it makes sense and is lucrative to market both consoles and information in this way, it is important that Sony’s considerations also include strong privacy options for those vulnerable to harassment, and frankly anyone who wishes to turn all of this off for whatever reason.

Why do you think you know that Taric is gay?

A skin that can be worn by League of Legends character Taric; it is very pink, features large gems and furry legwarmers, and is accessorised with a very poofy hairdo

This week, there has been discussion about whether League of Legends character Taric should come out of the closet as a gay man (by Todd Harper, Patricia Hernandez, and Kristin Bezio). It is argued that having a character be openly gay, rather than ‘wink and a nod, maybe’ gay, would represent a positive shift in the game’s diversity. From what I gather about League of Legends, I suppose it probably would; but the assumptions underlying this discussion are not at all welcoming of diverse forms of gender and sexual expression.

It’s claimed that by ‘remaining tight-lipped about his life outside of the league’, Taric as a character is furthering the idea that being gay is a hush-hush thing that should be kept out of public view and just whispered and giggled about behind closed doors. Todd Harper lists a few ways that Taric’s sexuality could be included in the game; maybe he has a boyfriend character, for example. This would, Kristin Bezio argues, positively reinforce sexual diversity, rather than simply using it as an in-joke.

I don’t disagree with the value of both fictional characters and real-life human beings coming out of the closet. I’ve benefited immensely from other people speaking and writing publicly about their identities and experiences. If there was someone like me on British TV, I would have a much easier time explaining my identity to my mother. But by assuming that Taric is gay, people are contributing to heteronormative assumptions from which I have only been able to escape in recent years, thanks to other people coming out and being public about their diverse gender identities.

Only because of other people coming out and speaking about their identities do I know that gender-variant people are not always defined by labels relating to sexual orientation. I’m not against coming out, but I am against the assumption that everybody will or should manage their social lives and personal identities in the same way. And even though I don’t play LoL, this call for an apparently feminine male character to come out as gay is deeply troubling to me as a genderqueer person.

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World of Warshaft (On RealID)

Quinnae is a young, Latina trans woman who games, reads, writes, and likes slugs. Her hobbies-slash-flaming passions are sociology, feminism, gender studies, politics, and eating pizza. At present she is studying to be a college professor, and is also an officer in her school’s women’s rights club, as well as one of several moderators on a women’s issues forum.On her spare time she very much enjoys gaming, both on and off the Internets. Her latest love was Dragon Age: Origins but her gaming experience in RPGs covers a smorgasbord of titles including World of Warcraft, Warhammer Online, Lord of the Rings Online, and Everquest II. Many many moons ago, she played Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind and was hooked on fantasy ever since.

This guest entry is reposted from her blog, The Nuclear Unicorn.

As I alluded to in my recent autobiographical posts, I was once a WoW gamer. Ahh, those were the days. I still miss those days, in fact! Which was why I was considering going back and firing up the ol’ Priestess so I could kick arse at raid healing again. I’m still in touch with plenty of WoW gamers, so my fingers remain ever so delicately situated on the pulse of that ageing but still powerful online gaming behemoth, including those times when it accelerates from WoW’s neverending and oh-so-entertaining drama.

Most in-game drama blow ups- this class getting nerfed, PVP being changed thus and so, raid gear altered in such and such a way-  is geeky wonk of the nerdiest kind. But Blizzard has recently decided to inaugurate a change that raises important philosophical questions in spaces far beyond the alluring vistas of Azeroth. Real ID.

“Recently, we introduced our new Real ID feature – http://www.battle.net/realid/ , a new way to stay connected with your friends on the new Battle.net. Today, we wanted to give you a heads up about our plans for Real ID on our official forums, discuss the design philosophy behind the changes we’re making, and give you a first look at some of the new features we’re adding to the forums to help improve the quality of conversations and make the forums an even more enjoyable place for players to visit.

The first and most significant change is that in the near future, anyone posting or replying to a post on official Blizzard forums will be doing so using their Real ID — that is, their real-life first and last name — with the option to also display the name of their primary in-game character alongside it. These changes will go into effect on all StarCraft II forums with the launch of the new community site prior to the July 27 release of the game, with the World of Warcraft site and forums following suit near the launch of Cataclysm. Certain classic forums, including the classic Battle.net forums, will remain unchanged.”

As I reread those words on one particularly slow and sweltering afternoon I turned them over in my mind thinking this must be some belated April Fool’s joke. They’d force people to post their real names as a condition of writing on the forums? There must be some caveat to this. Surely they meant the reverse? Posting the name of your WoW character with the option of showing your real name? But, nope. They’re deadly serious.

Ostensibly, this is to ‘clean up’ the forums but I find this logic to be entirely spurious. I’m intimately familiar with how much of a cesspool the WoW forums can be. I myself have called it the Internet’s Sphincter. Yet the solution to the problem, such as it was, would be greater and stricter moderation, as well as commonsense alterations that would make it less easy to troll the forums. Mind you, I’d miss all those Level 1 Troll troll accounts named Ipwnyou or somesuch. They gave WoW a certain zest, like a punch in the stomach that makes you vomit. But it’d be worthwhile to compel users to have only one forum account, rather than one account per in-game character, to avoid this Draconian nonsense.

We’ll leave aside the fact that Real ID bears exactly the same name as the US Government’s years long initiative to harmonise American state IDs and integrate national records, the same policy that now empowers all employers to rifle through their employees’ Social Security records (and outing transgender people who can’t yet change their gender markers at the SSA).

A very eloquent friend of mine who goes by the name Silverdawn in WoW, had this to add:

“As if WoW players weren’t already notorious for being almost completely off the fucking leash and prone to wildly inappropriate responses to trivia such as…oh, losing a drop to a hunter or having your class nerfed, which really totally hasn’t resulted in players lashing out with death threats to developers or yelling at their friends and getting piss-drunk because Warlocks deal 6% less damage now. Yeah, this is a community that’s always been fantastically well-behaved and couldn’t *possibly* misuse access to another player’s real life information.”

I really couldn’t have said it better. This change will not erase the ugly social forces that exist on the forums, merely displace them. Stalking happens in World of Warcraft already. It’s a fact of life for us- us primarily being women- and now Blizzard is proposing forum changes that would make it even easier for someone to have access to your personal information?

Some players and a few apologists for the idea have offered several- well, basically two- defences.

It’s your choice! Don’t use the forums, then!

My problem with this idea is manifold. The choice is a highly coerced one. “Use this service that you may like, but expose yourself naked to the world… or just stay silent” is not much of a choice. The concept of ‘choice’ is oft abused by those who pretend that a choice made with a gun to one’s head has not been in some way influenced.

The other problem I have is that those who this change won’t hurt will disproportionately be male and cis. Transgender people who have not yet changed their names legally cannot have their RealID name altered by Blizzard. This has already been confirmed after one trans friend of mine tried to do so. This change requires a court order, something normally reserved for banks, and government issued IDs. Now a trans person needs a court order to protect their privacy in a video game? Give me a break. “Just don’t use the forums”- and what? Add another thing to the already lengthy list of cis privileges?

Women as a whole are also going to be given the short end of the stick with this. I’ve known in my time several women who played as men to avoid unwanted attention. This blows them out of the water. Such a scenario could also expose transgender men. Finally, it gives potential stalkers a good headstart on information that could be used to track down their targets. The excuse of “well, don’t use the forums!”… It reeks of the same “well, just don’t go outside!” nonsense from people whose privileges render them incapable of understanding a life perspective different from their own. One shouldn’t intentionally make something like that lesssafe if it can be helped.

While the current system definitely does not keep everyone perfectly safe, the anonymity it affords is still much better than what the proposed alternative is.

This is not a choice, it is a heavily coerced choice.

Don’t rub your transgender whatsit it in our faces!

I couldn’t agree more. That’s exactly why this is a lousy idea. It ‘rubs my transgender’ in random people’s faces without me having any control over it. Well, not me personally; I have the privilege of owning several copies of Blizzard’s precious court order. But many of my brothers and sisters just ain’t that lucky, period. There’s no ethical reason that they should have to pay a price for this when they are just trying to play a silly amusing roleplaying game.

It’s the same logic I’ve used against people who’ve whined about trans people changing their ID gender markers: if you don’t want me to “rub it in your face” then let me have an ID that does not call attention to my assigned sex at birth, ‘kay? You’ll never know the difference!

It is, at heart, a privacy issue. I speak of the specific concerns for women, cis and trans, because they’ve been given short shrift in much of the (perfectly justified) outrage on this issue. But this is something that affects everyone who plays the game. Fundamentally you should be given an uncoerced choice in whether or not you broadcast your name and other information in such an environment as WoW. It isn’t like Facebook where you create an account and then invite only your friends and family, with a good deal of control over how much strangers can see (for now, at least).

There is, also, for those of us geeks who combine our love for theory with our love for high fantasy, a philosophical dimension to all of this. To quote more from what Silverdawn said to me earlier:

“You know what bothers me? It’s that a gaming company as brilliant as Blizzard–this is, by the way, why I blame Activision–has completely betrayed its own belief in the great power of the personal character. It is the projection into the avatar, not the representation of the physical, gross self, that inspires the most passionate socialization with the greatest longevity.”

That distinction is critical. It’s very much a defining feature of roleplaying games, not just of the Internet as a whole. My own reply to this, as ever, wove personal experience into it:

“Well, for me… Quinnae and Qera were my looking glasses into life as woman. Though them, people knew me as one, and I knew myself as a woman for the first time. It was not just the struggles and the joys of the game itself, but the literary personality that emerged in the forums- the young woman whose eloquent barbs undressed the most macho of bloviators with grace that befit the Night Elf she played.

Even when a select few people were told I was “a guy” by me in confidence, the persona that Quinnae enabled me to explore and develop held me in good stead.

Had this RealID thing been in place back then, I’m not saying I’d never have come out, but WoW made the process a lot easier, the self-exploration much easier- because it did so neatly cleave between the real and the unreal while simulteanously weaving them together. The balance of that contradiction provided the netherspace in which I flourished. A place where I could move in semi-real social circles as a woman with consequences similar to the real world, but a fantasy realm surreal enough that accomodated as many masques and guises as a Harlequin ball.

Feminist scholar Hilary Rose spoke of what she called the ‘laboratory of dreams’ when discussing science fiction, and its ability to envision new social worlds that a reader could lose themselves in- daring to imagine a better future. Or a worse one.

And for me roleplaying always was that laboratory in which my own dreams were forged, even if I never quite knew it.”

For many people it never was “just a game.” Their right to privacy and- dare I call such a thing a right- their right to flights of fantasy ought to be respected. One of the greatest things about MMOs was the fact that your real life identifying markers were required only for the credit card that the folks at billing needed to see and that was that. It was all utterly and blissfully invisible to everyone you played with, night in and night out. Once upon a time, Blizzard banned people for revealing personal information about players.

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, I guess, eh?

(Original source)

Blizzard Wants The World To Know Your Name

Battle net logo with a bright blue shiny "2.0" superimposed

Recently, we introduced our new Real ID feature - http://www.battle.net/realid/ , a new way to stay connected with your friends on the new Battle.net. Today, we wanted to give you a heads up about our plans for Real ID on our official forums, discuss the design philosophy behind the changes we’re making, and give you a first look at some of the new features we’re adding to the forums to help improve the quality of conversations and make the forums an even more enjoyable place for players to visit.

The first and most significant change is that in the near future, anyone posting or replying to a post on official Blizzard forums will be doing so using their Real ID — that is, their real-life first and last name — with the option to also display the name of their primary in-game character alongside it. These changes will go into effect on all StarCraft II forums with the launch of the new community site prior to the July 27 release of the game, with the World of Warcraft site and forums following suit near the launch of Cataclysm. Certain classic forums, including the classic Battle.net forums, will remain unchanged.

-Nethaera, Blizzard Poster

In an attempt to cut down on trolling and harassment in the forums Blizzard has proposed moving to use real names on forum posts.  Unfortunately, this has been shown elsewhere to cause problems for the same people who are most likely to be dissuaded from posting by trolling.  Serious posters who do not wish to have their online activity found by non-players or their real-life identity found by anyone wandering through the forums make significant contributions to the forums, whereas many trolls either use sock puppet accounts or simply don’t care about any real-life repercussions.  If Blizzard wants to make Battle.net something more than that-thing-I-had-to-sign-up-for-to-play-WoW, they are going about it in a very odd way.

Until now World of Warcraft forum posts were made under a character’s name, so if you wanted to make an anonymous post you could create a new level 1 character and post using that character.  It was a mark of authenticity to post under a max-level character, and there are many posters with long-running identities. The devs talked at one point about specific posters they listened to, all referenced by character name. Some character names became Community MVPs, demonstrating that there was already value attached to pseudonyms. One of these has commented that zie had been stalked in real life:

I love the game and will of course respect the coc/tos, but if the new forums require realid, which afaict they will (even though posts here won’t be retroactively outed)… then I’m forced to make a choice between posting there and giving out information that puts me at risk.

That is not a real choice.
-Snowfox, Vek’nilash

This is an important issue, because names carry markers of gender, ethnicity and real-world relationships that may be irrelevant to someone’s game play, but open up the possibility of harassment. It also makes it easier for harassers to follow people beyond the internet, making it a matter of personal safety. I find Blizzard’s decision unfortunate in every possible way. Forcing people to reveal personal details is no substitute for firm and consistent moderation, and will raise the barrier to entry of community participation.  I know I will not be posting under the new policy.

When Battle.net first came out concerns were raised about cross-game data mining, the inability to share or sell accounts (already forbidden by World of Warcraft’s ToS), the use of “community” as a cover for introducing DRM and the desire for it to mesh with Steam.  As far as I can tell, no one anticipated the possibility that Blizzard would “out” your real-life identity.

Amusingly enough, this change violates Blizzard’s terms of service, which promise to ban anyone revealing real-world information about a player.  Clearly at one point they recognized the importance of pseudonymity; hopefully someone will stop this change before it goes through.  There is currently a strong fan response pouring in and we’ll have to wait to see how Blizzard responds.

This also isn’t a new issue. Blizzard could have found the problems with their approach with even a cursory search on the topic. As such, I’ll recommend a couple of older posts I’d kept around on the issue. If you have favorites, please add them in the comments!
On real names online:
http://geekfeminism.org/2010/06/10/hacker-news-and-pseudonymity/ ,
Includes discussion of the intersection of harassment and real names:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2007/apr/06/gender.blogging