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Starcraft Sniffing Graded by Gamers

Ready to give up a little personal information for the good of Starcraft? Readers sound off.


When GameSpot News heard from readers that Blizzard was engaging in a little e-mail sniffing, we weren't sure what to think. As more and more gamers contacted us we wondered what was really going on. Then came the kicker. Blizzard said that it was sniffing for information - but only e-mail, CD key, and user name information (see Tuesday's GameSpot News story).

Since GameSpot News knows that privacy is one of the things that PC users place an extremely high value on, we asked you to send us your thoughts and reaction to Blizzard's actions.

After 150-plus e-mails from our readers, we found that there is a good split between gamers on this issue. Here's a random selection of letters we received. If your voice hasn't yet been heard, e-mail me below.

Here's the first of six pages:

I really don't think there was anything wrong with what Blizzard did. They make no guarantees of privacy while accessing their FREE Internet service. I think it is the responsibility of the users themselves to realize that the Internet is NOT a private place, but a public one. If you have a fear of having your privacy violated on the Internet then you either take proper precautions or cancel your Internet subscription and go back to playing games alone. I think it may have been better "PR" for Blizzard if they had posted some sort of bulletin indicating that they would be doing this and why, just as a courtesy to their users. This probably would have avoided any criticisms that will be "launched" their way in the coming days. Glenn

Well, I think that Blizzard should have set the software to ask users if they're having problems to allow the software to "snatch" name and e-mail info off of your machine. But this should be totally optional and if someone doesn't want to give their private info to Blizzard over the net then the user should have to call Blizzard Tech support through the provided numbers.

All I have to say to Blizzard is: "Ask, and thou shalt receive." Brad

I think it is good that Blizzard did some investigating to figure out what was going on with their game. I could care less about what happens to people who pirate a game that I pay good money for. And I'm sure that they are responsible enough to know what to do with the e-mail information when they are through with it.Justin K.

As a Windows NT system administrator and a budding network engineer, there have been times where snooping and sniffing were the only means to track a problem down (Radius comes to mind). What Blizzard has done is nothing new. If they handle the information gathered responsibly then I think they did the right thing. Lets not forget that system administrators can usually gain access to everyone's e-mail, etc. anyway. It really isn't a matter about privacy, but instead about responsible administration. That's why there are options to encrypt e-mail - in and of itself it never was secure.Russell L.

I would say that Blizzard was dead wrong to extract any information from users without notification. Allowing any company to establish a precedent of this nature is completely dangerous. In this case, Blizzard's motives may have been pure, but now they have established a precedent. Now, any company in the future may get the same idea, and then think, hell why stop at the user's name and e-mail address, why not just go all out and extract the entire Windows registry.

If Blizzard truly wanted to help gamers, why not tell them first and give them the -option- of releasing the information? Furthermore, if a gamer declined to release the information, they should be allowed to continue to use Battle.Net like everybody else.

The software industry continuously complains and lobbies for more controls and laws punishing software piracy, and then deals with customers as if we should be grateful that they allow us to play their game. Consider this: gamers now have to deal with games released before they are done, registration cards that provide no benefit to the consumer- but allow the game company to sell advertisers mailing lists, and now companies feeling they can scan my hard drive at their leisure.

Game companies need to be more consumer conscious, and Blizzard needs to stay off my hard drive unless I grant them permission to extract limited information.Jeff M.I personally think Blizzard STEPPED over the boundaries of privacy on this one... first of all, if they're going to SNOOP/EXTRACT personal info from people's PRIVATE systems, they should have let people know what was going on and why, not just go ahead and do it under people's noses. I believe in total privacy unless the person gives permission to have his info searched/looked at etc, unless there is GOOD reason to look without his permission (exp. someone hacking into a system or using someone else's logon/password etc) .

So my thought on it is that Blizzard invaded people's privacy for no acceptable reason. If some people were having trouble logging on, they should have told them that they were gonna look at the info when they log on to see what the problem could be, but they didn't do that.


Yea, I think it's not right to check on people's personal info, it's invading your privacy, I do not care if it's to prevent piracy, I like to keep my personal info private!.LeOnLoRd

If Blizzard really did want this information to help gamers, what was wrong with a dialog box asking for this information? Surely a legitimate user who has trouble logging on wouldn't mind giving this info. Truth is, Blizzard did this to stop hackers and pirates. And the only reason this was a problem was because they used a stupid system for the CD key - Ultima Online never had similar problems.

I'm not going to tell you how unacceptable this invasion of privacy was, I'm sure many others will. What makes it worse is that Blizzard hasn't admitted they were wrong, but come up with some BS story to cover themselves.Cameron R.

First, Blizzard doesn't support TCP/IP connections because they are afraid of "Cheating" and "Pirating". So most of us are forced to play over "" where they can keep an eye on us.

Now they admit to having the ability to extract our e-mail info and names from our PC's?

I think this feels a bit paranoid. I don't need big-brother looking over my shoulder during my online gaming sessions. The next thing you know they will include a free quick-cam in every package that you are required to mount on your PC so they can get a face along with your e-mail address and your name.

Are we sure that there isn't some government agency associated with Blizzard? Maybe this is why their games are so good...Dan B.

I think it's unfortunate that a lot of the responses that you'll get to this request will be along the lines of "Blizzard was only trying to help, they offer this cool gaming service for free, leave them alone." I personally think that what they did was reprehensible. I think that is a great gaming service, and that Blizzard makes great games, but that doesn't excuse their invasion of their users' privacy. They say that they don't maintain user databases or track gamer information, but to my mind, they've already proven themselves to be dishonorable.

If you think I'm making too much of a big deal about this, imagine this violation in any other sector of your life besides computing. How would you feel if you called GE to complain about your microwave not working, and they came out, broke into your house and went through your records to be sure that you hadn't stolen the microwave. Preposterous.Dan

I think it's a totally justified action. It's a great way to prevent piracy.

Hopefully it'll make people who don't pay think twice about logging on and abusing a service designed for people who pay full price.

Then again, what happens when I sell my copy? :-)Greg M.While I have yet to experience this game, it worries me that Blizzard chose to use this method to help people. Surely there are other ways. The Internet abuses people's privacy enough as it stands, without game companies secretly taking private information from my computer and supposedly using it to aid them in helping people solve the problems they are experiencing. Blizzard definitely stepped over the line on this issue and had no right to siphon this information from us.

When (and I have not used so far) and if I use I will want to login and be known as "Foxman", my common handle for most online games. That's all. Nobody has to know my real name, my e-mail address. Aren't we playing a video game to get away from the reality of names and e-mail? I think so. Blizzard crossed the line by extracting this information without asking. You don't go around taking people's pictures from their wallets on the street, so don't take *private* info from our computers in cyberspace.Steve

Gathering personal information without prior consent is just plain WRONG! I personally am a long-time fan of Blizzard titles, yet snoop tactics such as this is a definite strike against the company. I can understand their desire to protect themselves from piracy, however this approach is unacceptable. If it were more of a "fact finding mission", a simple diagnostic program initiated by users side would have sufficed. And by simply stating that this information will become visible by Blizzard's staff once initiated would have cleared up the issue of pirates hiding behind their shrouds of mischief. But my feeling on companies practicing Microsoft type tactics should be apparent by now. I can assure you that my future purchases of this company's titles will suffer as a result of their actions.John W.

Blizzard was incorrect in extracting the Names and E-mail addresses of's users without their knowledge.

This is not the same concept of a registration card, or even the setup of an Internet Browser. In both of those cases, permission is given by the user/owner to release the information (whether by typing it in the boxes in the case of Internet Browsers, or by writing it on the reg card and sending it in).

Blizzard overstepped their boundary by extracting this information without contacting the users. This information was taken WITHOUT the consent of the users (unlike in the case of the Internet Browser or reg card). This is a small step away from getting important information from the registry (let's face, the e-mail address isn't quite as important as a telephone number, or a SSN). If a program like MS Money happened to store a bank account number, or a SSN in my registry, and someone lifted it from the registry without my knowledge and/or approval they are committing a crime.

I understand that Blizzard was taking nothing more than Names and E-mail addresses, but the position remains the same. They took something from a computer that was not theirs without the permission and/or consent of the owner. It matters not whether said information helped solve problems for the people that had the problems. The result is never more important than the intent.Jason L.

Blizzard says that they only collected the data to help out gamers. Now, I ask myself, if I'm doing something to help people who are having problems, I'd put up a nifty little pop-up box saying "In order that we may serve you better and provide a higher quality of customer service, we would like your e-mail address so that we can contact you in case of a problem. Would you like to take part?"

Wow! Not only would this make sure the user gave permission, but then the user would know that the service was actually trying to handle the problems, and was being pro-active about it! Hmmm, I don't see that many companies passing up the opportunity for good PR like that, or if they did, someone in their marketing department needs a talking to.

Instead, they actually snag data and send it out to who knows where for what purposes. It's a lot like someone walking up to your house and flipping through your mail box. Sure, they didn't actually take your mail, or even read what inside the envelope, but I'm positive most people would feel that their privacy had been violated. It doesn't matter to me if it a helpful plumber looking to see if I am getting mails back from my other plumber who's no good, or if it is some punk kid down the street trying to send my mail address to 400 magazines so I have to cancel them all. Either way, they have no business trying to get that data from me without my knowledge.

I propose that anytime a company wants data on you, they should ask for it. I also propose that any company that doesn't ask for data, and shows these kinds of data collecting tactics, be shown for what they are: Data Weasels, who are using your personal data for their own purposes. It may be a marketing campaign, a spam mailing list, or even just to see how many users are on which online service. It doesn't matter what it's for, it's the way they get the data that's just plain wrong.Sean M.I believe that Blizzard has every right to be collecting information on who uses their FREE service and how they access it. I certainly would.

I truly believe that Blizzard was trying to do the right thing by watching who could and couldn't get onto, even if it was done without user knowledge. Even if they were doing it to try and catch some pirates, they still had their heart in the right place, helping the gamer. Blizzard is one of the extremely few companies that doesn't try to cut all the corners it can, so slipping something like this behind the players back is justified in my view.

Besides.. didn't people have to electronically sign a few agreements to play Starcraft anyway? (I know I did...) Though I didn't read it (who does?) I am quite sure that there would've been a little statement in there about this.

My last point is, who here has to lose anything unless they stole or pirated the software?Shane B.

Several things occur to me about this report of Blizzard obtaining information from players' computers: 1) It is spooky that a company can get this information without user knowledge 2) It is cool that a company can do this to solve game problems 3) There is no excuse for not putting up a public notification on their web site before engaging in this activity 4) Blizzard's track record involving player privacy would make me inclined to trust them and let it slide this time, but it should never happen unannounced again.Front End Chaos

I think that Blizzard was justified in getting their e-mail/name... big deal... if other people don't like it don't use is the best thing that has happened for gamers everywhere... no need in pissing off Blizzard.

PS: Any old person can get someone else's e-mail anyway... so what's the fuss?Over

I feel that their attempt to track down those with illegal copies (no matter what they say they were doing) is wrong and against our rights. I believe that they had this written into the program to find pirated copies rather than help the users get online. What I have on my computer is my information, due to the fact that it is mine and it isn't harming anyone. If I were to break into (that's what they basically did) Blizzard's computer, would they enjoy that? Why don't you pose that question to them and see what kind of answer you get... and then when you get the truth from them, then you should post it.Nicholas P.

Personally, I'm normally inclined to give Blizzard a big break on just about anything. They make great games that are about as bug free as a video game comes now days (unlike other companies... whose names I won't mention - although one is in a lawsuit, and the other is HQ'd in Bethesda, Maryland.... in fact, they pulled their name from their location). I'd much rather wait twice as long for a solid game than get an on-time buggy one. Also is a stroke of sheer genius... why would I want to play a game for some hourly fee, when I can hook up on for free and play about as lag free as is possible on today's Internet?

BUT (there's always one of those, isn't there), this time I have to go against the people at Blizzard. There's enough people out there gathering enough information about us all the time. I'm on so many mailing lists for catalogs and whatnot, that I could plaster my house in catalog pages and then some with the stuff I get every month.

I don't see why it's so hard to fall back on what our grandmothers (at least my grandmother) taught us growing up: if you want something, just ask nicely. Blizzard could have announced that it was intending to gather this data and what it was gathering the data for. I'm sure most users would not have minded all that much - especially the ones who had busted key codes.

Sure, most of the pirates would have just mysteriously disappeared during this time. But there are other ways to validate a purchase by a legitimate customer. Send in or fax a receipt, for example. Or maybe request/require a registration card. With the keycode system, there can't be that many pirates out there, because the only way to get a valid keycode is to mess up someone else's keycode. If you loan the game to a buddy, and he copies it and thus screws up your legitimate keycode, then that's between you and your friend. No need to pull in Blizzard and the rest of their customers into the fray.

No, Blizzard should have handled this issue better (or maybe a little forethought into what would happen with the keycodes anyway - I'd have put the keycodes directly into the program. Just kill any duplicate disks that show up.) Either way, they really didn't have any right to infringe on its customer's privacy without permission.Frank L.

I would object to any company taking information from me without my consent. Being a software developer/DBA, I understand Blizzard's problem, but this doesn't give them the right to collect information about me in any form without consent. Maybe they should just place a small disclaimer up concerning what they are doing and most people would say ok and be on there way. But not informing your customers about electronic information gathering is breach of customer trust in Blizzard. I consider this the same thing as recording someone's conversation without their permission. I am a fan of Starcraft.RobBlizzard has taken a very active role against piracy, and they should. Those who pirate shouldn't have any rights at all, and are scum of the earth. The advent of TCP/IP connections, and writeable CD's has put the software companies and pirates on equal grounds again... and something must be done.

It's not like Blizzard will distribute the e-mails and names they have taken "except maybe those found pirating the game" so honest people will face no ramifications... people who complain about their privacy should take a look at escalating software prices, something must be done! Blizzard is paving the way.Alex J.

I don't object to Blizzard collecting user's information, even if it is for the sole purpose of detecting piracy. What I do object to is the collection of that information without the user's consent. The source of that information is my machine, not theirs. My property not theirs. As a result, I view it as electronic theft. What's next? Are they going to start going door to door searching homes looking for illegal copies of software? That would clearly be illegal, as I feel this should be as well.Chris R.

I'm all for Blizzard helping their customers use their product, and I can even see them collecting this information - for this sole reason only. However, that they did it without even notifying their users is reprehensible and reeks of Microsoft's ways. I don't like it one bit.Michael H.

No excuse, it's absolutely wrong! God, I bought Starcraft the day before I read about the news. You can't return the damn thing either! Since it's got this CD key in the package, if you return it you could play on

It's unfortunate that Blizzard has turned out so... uncool. Debugging CD key problems? If I bought the game and have a problem, I call the support number, e-mail, or post to their tech-support forum! If I didn't enter any e-mail/name/etc information and someone e-mailed me telling me why I had a CD problem, I'd be pretty pissed.

Not to mention they've got some serious legal problems. I can't express how much this pisses me off...

I go through huge measures to maintain some form of privacy. Now I find that I can pay to have that yanked away? It's bad enough I have to pay to keep my phone number unlisted. I'm not going to sniff my network every time I play a new game... I guess I can just stick with Quake2 running under Linux. And hey, they even let anyone run an IP server, unlike Blizzard... Not to mention Linux support, semi-open source, and hey, a kick ass game.Matt

Hell no, Blizzard had no right to invade their user's privacy by taking information from their computer with their permission. Just because I bought Starcraft (or Diablo or Diablo II), doesn't mean I'm giving a company permission to start searching my hard drive.

Hell no, they screwed up big time. This is completely unacceptable. I loved Diablo, I'm seriously thinking about purchasing Diablo II, but I was unsure about purchasing Starcraft. This made my decision for me. I may buy Diablo II, but I will not be purchasing Starcraft and I may not purchase other Blizzard titles when they come out.

It's bad enough that today's Internet user has to worry about hackers without worrying about good companies like Blizzard. Their very lame excuse that browsers do the same thing reminds me something my mother told me many years ago: "If Netscape jumped off a bridge tomorrow, would Blizzard follow it?"Sir Phalanx

I think Blizzard was entirely justified. What most gamers who complain on IRC DON'T say is that they illegally pirated the game. Yet, they still complain that Blizzard is "illegally obtaining information." This just goes to show you the immaturity of so many people on the information superhighway. Absolutely ridiculous.JoshEven though I have yet to get my copy of Starcraft, I find this "big brother" tactic appalling.

Who knows what they do with this information, while they might not keep a database, some greedy Blizzard employee might sell this information to mailing lists without their knowing.

And I know I don't want that to happen.Yaron

As a longtime gamer (20+ years) and a Blizzard customer, game beta tester for several companies, and yes, even a former pirate, I feel I have a valid viewpoint on this subject.

When I was a young lad, I enjoyed the bounties of copying games from friends whenever I wanted to play a game I could not afford. I was on a fixed income (allowance) and was also an avid and consummate gamer. However, no matter what happened, I never tried to hurt an individual. I was too young and stupid to know that I was indeed hurting real people; I thought I was just hitting game companies that had more money than they knew what to do with since they charged so much for their games.

Now, I know better. At 30+ years of age, I have had plenty of time and experience in the software industry to know that copying games hurts *real* people. The price charged for games today is actually reasonable when compared to the work hours needed to create these works of art (and like any art, some works are masterpieces and some are total crap. Some masterpieces go unnoticed forever, and some total pieces of crap sell millions - a subject for a whole other thread of conversation). I buy every game I play now. I believe Blizzard operated in the best interest of their *customers* if not the pirates - they were, in fact, looking out for themselves as a company as well as their users.

If you have nothing to hide, you should not normally be offended that a company gets information that any web site can get anytime you hit it. Any time you connect to the web, you open up your computer to perusal by anyone, benign or malignant. Anyone with half a brain and a PC can get a lot more than your e-mail address. I believe Blizzard was working in a completely belligerent manner. What does this company have to gain by misusing their customers' e- mail addresses, and even IP addresses? Even if they did intend to misuse this information, they would not get far before being caught. Let's look at this rationally: a single low-profile cracker/phreaker has more chance of hurting users than a large, high profile company like Blizzard. And even if Blizzard or an employee of that company felt the need to misuse the information, what end might be gained? Spam? Harassment? Let's put this into perspective! Blizzard is into selling games, not maxxing out your credit card and then filing Chapter 11...

I have not purchased Starcraft. However, I was a buyer of Diablo and felt the sting and frustration when was besieged by hackers and cheaters. I quit using the game I paid $49 for after about five times online. If the work done by Blizzard helps protect their users (who were lured in by web sites offering cheats and solutions - God help the newbies) then I support them 100 percent.Paul D.

I will never play on again... Blizzard should under no circumstances get information off of my hd without my knowledge... snooping in my opinion plain sucks... and is an invasion of my privacy... Blizzard has just lost a customer...Jonin

I think it is wrong! If I play Starcraft which I bought with my own money on my brother's computer which has totally different e-mail account, they might accusing me of pirating just because I play Starcraft on my brother's computer. If they want to stop pirating, then they should do something else like a registration form check. Have the serial number and his/her e-mail on the registration form and when send it and log on, see if the names are the same and the e-mail address are the same. Not by sniffing out our privacy stuff.AzNGaMeR

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