How to anger your most loyal supporters

The gaming world is seething after what is seen as an egregious assault on privacy by World of Warcraft (WoW), one of the most successful multiplayer role-playing games yet devised.  The issue?  Whereas players used to know each other through their WoW “handles”, the company is now introducing a system called “RealID” that forces players to reveal their offline identities within the game's fantasy context.  Commentators think the company wanted to turn its user base into a new social network.  Judging from the massive hullabaloo amongst even its most loyal supporters, the concept may be doomed.

To get an idea of the dimensions of the backlash just type “WoW RealID” into a search engine.  You'll hit paydirt:

The RealID feature is probably the kookiest example yet of breaking the Fourth Law of Identity – the law of Directed Identity.   This law articulates the requirement to scope digital identifiers to the context in which they are used.  In particular, it explains why universal identifiers should not be used where a person's relationship is to a specific context.  The law arises from the need for “contextual separation” – the right of individuals to participate in multiple contexts without those contexts being linkable unless the individual wants them to be.

The company seems to have initially inflicted Real ID onto everyone, and then backed off by describing the lack of “opt-in” as a “security flaw”, according to this official post on wow.com:

To be clear, everyone who does not have a parentally controlled account has in fact opted into Real ID, due to a security flaw. Addons have access to the name on your account right now. So you need to be very careful about what addons you download — make sure they are reputable. In order to actually opt out, you need to set up parental controls on your account. This is not an easy task. Previous to the Battle.net merge, you could just go to a page and set them up. Done. Now, you must set up an account as one that is under parental control. Once your account is that of a child's (a several-step process), your settings default to Real ID-disabled. Any Real ID friends you have will no longer be friends. In order to enable it, you need to check the Enable Real ID box.

 Clearly there are security problems that emerge from squishing identifiers together and breaking cross-context separation.  Mary Landsman has a great post on her Antivirus Software Blog called “WoW Real ID: A Really Bad Idea“:

Here are a couple of snippets about the new Battle.net Real ID program:

“…when you click on one of your Real ID friends, you will be able to see the names of his or her other Real ID friends, even if you are not Real ID friends with those players yourself.”

“…your mutual Real ID friends, as well as their Real ID friends, will be able to see your first and last name (the name registered to the Battle.net account).”

“…Real ID friends will see detailed Rich Presence information (what character the Real ID friend is playing, what they are doing within that game, etc.) and will be able to view and send Broadcast messages to other Real ID friends.”

And this is all cross-game, cross-realm, and cross-alts. Just what already heavily targeted players need, right? A merge of WoW/Battle.net/StarCraft with Facebook-style social networking? Facepalm might have been a better term to describe Real ID given its potential for scams. Especially since Blizzard rolled out the change without any provision to protect minors whatsoever:

Will parents be able to manage whether their children are able to use Real ID?
We plan to update our Parental Controls with tools that will allow parents to manage their children's use of Real ID. We'll have more details to share in the future.

Nice. So some time in the future, Blizzard might start looking at considering security seriously. In the meantime, the unmanaged Real ID program makes it even easier for scammers to socially engineer players AND it adds potential stalking to the list of concerns. With no provision to protect minors whatsoever.

Thanks, Blizz…Not!

And Kyth has a must-read post at stratfu called Deeply Disappointed with the ‘RealID’ System where he explains how RealID should have been done.  His ideas are a great implementation of the Fourth Law.

Using an alias would be fine, especially if the games are integrated in such a way that you could pull up a list of a single Battle.net account's WoW/D3 characters and SC2 profiles. Here is how the system should work:

  • You have a Battle.net account. The overall account has a RealID Handle. This Handle defaults to being your real name, but you can easily change it (talking single-click retard easy here) to anything you desire. Mine would be [WGA]Kazanir, just like my Steam handle is.
  • Each of your games is attached to your Battle.net account and thereby to your RealID. Your RealID friends can see you when you are online in any of those games and message you cross-game, as well as seeing a list of your characters or individual game profiles. Your displayed RealID is the handle described above.
  • Each game contains either a profile (SC2) or a list of characters. A list of any profiles or characters attached to your Battle.net account would be easily accessible from your account management screen. Any of these characters can be “opted out” of your RealID by unchecking them from the list. Thus, my list might look like this:

    X Kazanir.wga – SC2 ProfileX Kazanir – WoW – 80 Druid Mal'ganisX Gidgiddoni – WoW – 60 Warrior Mal'ganis_ Kazbank – WoW – 2 Hunter Mal'ganisX Kazabarb – D3 – 97 Barbarian US East_ Kazahidden – D3 – 45 Monk US West

    In this way I can play on characters (such as a bank alt or a secret D3 character with my e-girlfriend) without forcibly having their identity broadcast to my friends.When I am online on any of the characters I have unchecked, my RealID friends will be able to message me but those characters will not be visible even to RealID friends. The messages will merely appear to come from my RealID and the “which character is he on” information will not be available.

  • Finally, the RealID messenger implementation in every game should be able to hide my presence from view just like any instant messenger application can right now. I shouldn't be forced to be present with my RealID just because I am playing a game — there should be a universal “pretend to not be online” button available in every Battle.net enabled game.

These are the most basic functionality requirements that should be implemented by anyone with an IQ over 80 who designs a system like this.

Check out the comments in response to his post.  I would have to call his really sensible and informed proposal “wildly popular”.  It will be really interesting to see how this terrible blunder by such a creative company will end up.

 [Thanks to Joe Long for heads up]

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Kim Cameron

Work on identity.