Blizzard Real ID vs. My Privacy

So part two in the three part series on Blizzard really cheesing me off this week has to do with another new offering called Real ID.

This is only tangentially connected to my initial screed on how Blizzard compromised the security of parental controls by bypassing their own authenticator scheme because I only became aware of Real ID as part of the email message announcing the new and improved parental controls.

That message had two new features listed, one was not having to remember a password for parental controls and the other was the ability to turn on Real ID for your child’s account.

And my gut reaction to that second item was, “If I wanted my child’s real identity out there, I wouldn’t be using parental controls, now would I?”

But then I remembered another “might be real” item in the big folder of account phishing attempts.  And there it was, titled “Real ID Coming to World of Warcraft!”

And who is the poster boy for Real ID?  Why, Arthas!

Arthas Commands It!

And really, I could stop right there, since Arthas trying to sell me on Real ID digs right at my streak of paranoia.  It would be like Darth Vader hawking the NINA mortgages… or becoming the new spokesman for the IRS… just a little too close to a natural fit.

I mean the great luxury of the internet is that we can all go out and play together and I don’t have to worry about you asking to crash on my couch when you’ve lost your job, wife, and home due to your being unable to stop playing online games.

Sure, there are costs associated with this anonymity, with only the most obvious illustrated over at Penny Arcade, but they are (mostly, in my opinion) worth the price.

Still, I should go forward and mention what Real ID is supposed to offer, quoting for truth and such.

Soon, World of Warcraft players will have access to a brand-new feature called Real ID, a completely voluntary and optional level of identity that will keep players connected across all of

When you and a friend mutually agree to become Real ID friends, you’ll have access to a number of additional features that will enrich your social gaming experience in new and exciting ways:

-Real Names for Friends: Your Real ID friends will appear under their real-life names on your friends list, when chatting, communicating in-game, or viewing a character’s profile. Real ID friends can also see who’s on each other’s Real ID friends list, making it easy for players to connect with other people they know.

-Cross-Realm and Cross-Game Chat: With Real ID, friends can chat cross-realm and cross-faction in World of Warcraft, and will be able to chat across future Blizzard games such as StarCraft II.

-Rich Presence: See additional info on your friends list about what your Real ID friends are up to in World of Warcraft and upcoming games like StarCraft II in real time.

-Broadcasts: Broadcast a short status message for all of your Real ID friends to see, whether you want to issue a call-to-arms or let your friends know about an important change of plans.

-Friend Once, See All Characters: Real ID friends will automatically see all of each other’s characters on their friends list – even characters created in future Blizzard games – helping players stay connected with the people they enjoy playing with most.

A nice feature set.  An attempt to go beyond what SOE has done with their Station Launcher friend’s list.

Of course, I should mention that they opened this up with a salutation that included my real name.

But why should I care about that, about using my real name?

I must admit is, in an odd turn for a blogger, that I do value my privacy and the privacy of my family.  And I care all the more so while involved in a job search.  Being a gamer carries a stigma which may not endear you to prospective employers, especially in a state where the unemployment rate is around 12%.

And it isn’t even that I write anything about which I would be ashamed.  My mother reads my blog.

But given a choice between equally qualified candidates, somebody who blogs about online gaming is likely to lose out. (It might help me with that SOE QA Manager position for which I applied.  Then again, it might not.  Wasn’t I just bagging on SOE marketing the other day?  Oops.)

So I get a bit squeamish when Blizzard starts talking about using my real name in the game in any way, and all the more so because I see the value in what they are offering.  Blizzard says, in the Real ID FAQ:

Real ID is a system designed to be used with people you know and trust in real life — friends, co-workers and family — though it’s ultimately up to you to determine who you wish to interact with in this fashion.

And certainly I wouldn’t share my Real ID with anybody I did not trust or know in real life, but this rings of the classic “drink responsibly” sort of message.  Who knows how this is going to develop.  Will people start exchanging IDs casually in game?  Will raiding guilds start demanding Real IDs from members?

I am going to watch this feature carefully.  Right now there are less than ten people with whom I would consider sharing Real IDs, and even then I like to have a secret alt or two stashed away for when I just want to run around solo and not seem like I am snubbing anybody.

Everything Blizzard offers has a price, but I’m not sure I’m ready to pay for this one.

And I am certainly not enabling this feature on my daughter’s account!

25 thoughts on “Blizzard Real ID vs. My Privacy

  1. *vlad*

    I don’t understand why they decided that using your account name for this (which for most people will be their real name) was a good idea.

    Sure, I have lots of online friends, and it would be fun to log on and see they are playing on their alts or on a different game, but I still want to choose who knows my real name. Why don’t Blizzard give you the option to enter a user ID? Wouldn’t that do the same job but still keep your real name a secret if you so desired?

    The ability to look into the future with this tool is amazing, though. I will be able to see my friends’ characters in games that have not even been invented yet. Impressive, most impressive.


  2. PeterD

    Blizzard could have offered all of the benefits of Real ID (global chat, account based friends, etc.) without the insanity of passing your account name around. For a game as plagued with hacking as WoW, they sure don’t seem to be taking account security seriously lately.

    City of Heroes has had global chat and Champions and Star Trek both have global friends, and neither of them require giving out your account name, just a global handle.

    Based on the things Blizzard has been doing lately, I honestly expect the next big kerfuffle to be Blizzard’s announcement that account restorations are becoming a paid service :P $25 to restore items to a hacked account, $35 to restore a hacked and locked out account. Sounds crazy right? So did the $25 sparkle pony.

    Whether it’s being driven by Blizzard or their publishing overlords, WoW these days is all about the ka-ching.

    “In order to promote faster, more reliable service for customers with compromised accounts, account restoration will now be a paid service like character transfers or faction changes. This will allow us to reduce response times and increase the security of your account by discouraging hackers from attempting fake restorations.”

    The announcement will be met with cheers by the same people who thought the sparkle pony was brilliant, and jaw-dropped stupefaction by the rest of us :P


  3. Tanek

    I have multiple concerns about the Real ID system, but a main one is how it chains across friends. Meaning, you don’t only have to be sure you share your Real ID with people you trust, but that you have to trust them enough that you are ok with your name being shared with any of *their* friends. All of a sudden you don’t have so much control over your ID.

    Also, I agree with vlad about having the system just use a separate user ID in place of your Real Name. Nowhere have I seen where using your full first and last name adds any benefit. All it does is raise privacy issues and limit your use of the system.

    Maybe that is part of the plan. If people are hesitant to spread the Real ID around, the communication between servers and between games could be somewhat more controlled. If that is Blizzard’s hope, though, and opening the floodgates on the system could cause problems…well, hold on to your hats, folks. It may be a bumpy ride. :)


  4. Brian 'Psychochild' Green

    I believe this is the point where I’m supposed to express satisfaction at no longer playing the game.

    Let me check my “MMO lifespan chart”. Yep, it’s just about time to brag about not playing the game right now. :)

    Ah, history repeating itself. It’s so surprising! :P


  5. dorgol

    I don’t understand the fear. I don’t give a crap if someone knows my real name (hello, my name is Robert Cole).

    I won’t be using RealID much (if at all) because I simply don’t have but one or two people who play WoW that I would CARE to talk to regardless of what game or realm I’m on.

    But really, our names are already out there. I don’t have people beating on my door trying to sell me something based on something I’ve done / said online.


  6. Wilhelm2451 Post author

    @Robert Cole – It is a little bit different when your name is a unique search on Google. Put your name in, many people come up as results. Put in my name and only I come up.

    My former company had 70,000+ employees. I shared a first name with over 500 (John), but the first four letters of my last name was a unique identifier in the employee search.

    That sort of thing makes you a bit more paranoid.


  7. Mookie

    Having worked in the Digital Security business since the early 1990’s, I can assure all of you that people who use this Real Id are in for a treat. Thanks to social engineering, people won;t have to worry about their accounts being hacked. Instead, with your real name floating around it’s extreme;y easy to narrow down the name to the specific person using the Real Id, and obtain a wealth of information about them. Information that make hacking a game account small potatoes. Once a person can narrow down your location by region, it’s only matter of time before they can begin compiling information about you. Anything from public records, addresses of not only you, but your friends and family as well. It’s not only probably but likely we will see something in the news along the lines of people getting the identities stolen and things as extreme as people getting assaulted or killed by some vengeful player they whipped on in a pvp arena.

    Real ID is by far one of the most horrific ideas. I would strongly suggest you stay away from it.

    By the way, do a google search of “Real ID”……


  8. PeterD

    The fact that it displays a real name once the Real ID is enabled isn’t what should be worrying you, it’s this:

    “simply enter his or her account name (an email address) using the Add Friend function in-game. The other player will see the pending request in their friends list, and if they accept, you will become Real ID friends with each other.”

    You have to hand out your account name, so make damned sure your “friend” is really your friend before you do this, or your account name could end up sent and/or sold to all sorts of people. We can also expect brute force attempts at friending people to verify account names for hacking, so be very careful before accepting a Real ID request :P

    It’s bad enough account security was degraded by switching from account names to e-mail addresses, but now people are going to be handing out their account info willy nilly? Sigh.


  9. TheRemedy

    I don’t like the idea that if one of my real id friends gets hacked then some hacker will be able to see my real name and what character I’m playing. It could lead to all sorts of scams where the hacker will start pretending to be your friend and ask for gold or some such thing.


  10. Elisten

    The thing that bugs me the most is: “and even then I like to have a secret alt or two stashed away for when I just want to run around solo and not seem like I am snubbing anybody.”

    Sometimes, I just want to hide from everybody!


  11. nightmyst

    why would you even link your real name to an email account you use to log on a public forum? my live id is my first toon’s name from 4 years ago and is only used for gaming. it isn’t rocket science, is it?


  12. Wilhelm2451 Post author

    @nightmyst – It is not clear to me, from what I have read, that merely having your WoW account associated with an email account that uses another name will prevent your real name from being used. After all, Blizzard has my real name as part of my account information.

    In fact, I’m sure they don’t get your name from your email account. My daughter’s account points to an email address with a false name, but when messages come from Blizz, they have my full name in them.

    So, it may not be rocket science, but I’m not sure you know what it is there.


  13. SynCaine

    Hope they control how the font works really well, because you can expect a swarm of ‘friend’ requests from accounts that look like someone you know (with an L used instead of an I for instance).

    Hopefully this explodes in Blizzards face shortly, and in spectacular fashion. :popcorn:


  14. Katie

    City of Heroes had an awesome global chat where every account had a global name. You friend that, and then you can see who they are on, even over different servers and you can still chat. No real name required! I hate that the real id is my full name, I go by a nickname that I wish I could now update!


  15. .asd

    Well.. it’s optional so either use it, or don’t.

    I don’t suggest giving it to total strangers, but that’s just common sense to me.


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  17. Pai

    Call me old fashioned, but I love my pseudonymity ingame (and online in general). I don’t like how you can NEVER ESCAPE from the people you add as a friend… them being able to see every alt in every Blizz game I’m playing is WAY too invasive, in my opinion.


  18. Random Poster

    I must be missing the problem here. If it were mandatory I would agree with you wholeheartedly but it’s not. You can still add friends the old way, still maintain hidden alts, still maintain anonymity.

    I agree it could have been linked to something other than ones account login, but again you just don’t hand it out and there is no problem. I would say this to anybody though that wants to use it, have an Authenticator attached.


  19. No RealID

    to anyone saying “its optional dont use it”.

    Yes, it is optional.
    It is also an extremely useful tool.
    If it had some simple privacy controls (which it has none), then it would be useful for many more people.

    The problem is their design.
    Why design a system which has very limited uses?
    By limited i mean, I have maybe 2 or 3 people i know IRL who play wow. So if i were to use it, i’d have 2 people in my list. Wow, very useful.
    Add some privacy controls and i’d have 10+ people in there.
    Infinitely more useful don’t you think?


  20. Diablooo

    It’s so the chinese gold farmers can communicate across realms you see … but I bet Blizz know this as they have to keep their “other” industry working too right? All about the monies.


  21. Gina Cole

    OMG What were you thinking Blizzard? I have spent a whack of money and time on this game. When I originally signed up I was told that the game would stay exciting with new features being added via patches. I was not told that I may not be able to use these wonderful new features unless I was willing to compromise my security.
    I have already left one server due to “someone I thought I trusted” becoming a bit of a stalker. I am sure glad he didn’t get my real name before this went down.


  22. _Flin_

    As an IT-professional I can only advise everyone not to use this. It is very dangerous. Especially for women and kids.
    – you can’t control who uses your personal information (no opt out. Some friend of yours might be a friend of someone you hate or who hates you. You might be harassed in game. Or in RL)
    – Ready for RL phone calls and letters of games marketeers? Or gold farmers?
    – Remember that kid 20 levels below you slaughtered 3 times in Stranglethorn when you had a bad day? It wasn’t actually a kid, but a 6’6″ 220lbs biker who just came out of prison for assault and battery. He remembers you vividly and just found out that you live just 80 miles away.
    – You are a girl? People are so friendly to you? Give you things and talk to you? Wait til they show up on your door step, are fat and ugly and smelly and confess their infinite love… and then turn out be quite psychotic.
    – You are on facebook? Have been blackmailed into gold presents yet, or your facebook profile will be vandalized?

    This is a bad idea in so many ways, the potential danger far exceeds the benefits. If I want to stay in touch with a friend I just ask for his user name. What’s the problem?


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