Blizzard Changes ID Plans After Privacy Outcry

Activision Blizzard abandons plans to take anonymity away from users of its online forums for computer games because of an outcry over user privacy.

Activision Blizzard has backtracked on its plans to require posters on its "World of Warcraft" and "StarCraft" forums to use their real identities.

In an announcement July 9, Blizzard Entertainment CEO Mike Morhaime said the reversal was driven by user feedback. Activision Blizzard is the parent company of Blizzard Entertainment. Blizzard's July 6 announcement about the plan had caused many users to flood Blizzard forums with criticism.

"Our efforts are driven 100 percent by the desire to find ways to make our community areas more welcoming for players and encourage more constructive conversations about our games," Morhaime said. "We will still move forward with new forum features such as the ability to rate posts up or down, post highlighting based on rating, improved search functionality and more. However, when we launch the new 'StarCraft II' forums that include these new features, you will be posting by your 'StarCraft II' character name [and] character code, not your real name. The upgraded 'World of Warcraft' forums with these new features will launch close to the release of 'Cataclysm,' and also will not require your real name."

The changes, he added, are separate from plans for the optional in-game Real ID system currently live for 'World of Warcraft' and launching soon for 'StarCraft II.'

"We believe that the powerful communications functionality enabled by Real ID, such as cross-game and cross-realm chat, make a great place for players to stay connected to real-life friends and family while playing Blizzard games," Morhaime said. "And of course, you'll still be able to keep your relationships at the anonymous, character level if you so choose when you communicate with other players in game. Over time, we will continue to evolve Real ID on to add new and exciting functionality within our games for players who decide to use the feature."

When Blizzard first announced the plans earlier the week of July 5, the company saidthe move was meant to address the reputation of the forums as a place where "flame wars, trolling and other unpleasantness run wild."

The company statement argued, "Removing the veil of anonymity typical to online dialogue will contribute to a more positive forum environment, promote constructive conversations and connect the Blizzard community in ways they haven't been connected before."

Nick Bradley, manager of IBM's Managed Security Services Intelligence Center, blogged that while anonymity is one of the most attractive parts of the Web for many people, it can also bring its share of problems.

"While [anonymity] seems like a rather nice feature at first, the appeal of anonymity quickly devolves into lack of responsibility for one's actions," Bradley wrote. "Once that occurs, we see what we face today: forum trolls, keyboard warriors and just simple disrespect from people who know they will never face the wrath their actions would likely incur had they behaved that way in the real world."

Still, Bradley argued that taking away anonymity on the Web in most cases punishes the "'good guys' much the same way people feel that gun control does." If it were done en masse, the first fallout would be an increase in identity theft due to it being much easier to access people's information, he wrote.

"It is already too easy for the bad actors to obtain the data they need in order to prey on users," he wrote. "A move in this direction will make it even easier ... The overall issue has many pros and cons, but I think that while the simple fact remains that the Internet is global and impossible to fully police, anonymity must remain. I say that not in order to protect those who see the Internet as a place to loot, pillage and burn, but to protect us from being easy targets as much as possible."

In a blog post July 8, Electronic Frontier Foundation Referral Coordinator Eva Galperin noted that Internet forums such as Slashdot, Reddit and Yahoo Finance Message boards have used various techniques-from active moderation by humans to community rating tools and algorithms-to cope with the problems described by Blizzard.

"Some methods have been more successful than others, but innovation in this realm continues to develop," Galperin wrote. "None of these sites has gone so far as to try eliminating anonymity entirely."