Spyware? PC Game Marketing Tool Triggers Privacy Backlash | Tech News
A marketing tool embedded in dozens of PC games is raising worries of a digital privacy invasion.
The developers behind the Elder Scrolls Online and Conan Exiles experimented with a marketing tool only to abandon it in the face of gamer outcry.
The problem? Some customers say the tool is spyware, given that it can “fingerprint” your PC for tracking purposes. Data collected includes IP address, the operating system, in-game user ID, and browser version number, which is sent to the marketing tool’s provider, Red Shell, for processing.
“This is software from someone I don’t trust and whom I never invited, which is looking at my data and running on my PC against my will,” one user wrote on Reddit in a warning to the gaming community.
Over the past week, a growing number of gaming developers pledged to drop Red Shell’s marketing tool amid the backlash. However, a few have said the tool was merely meant to track the efficiency of their ad campaigns. “There was never any intention to sell data to third parties,” wrote Behaviour Interactive, the developer of Dead by Daylight.
Red Shell, which is owned by Seattle-based startup Innervate, is also defending itself from the spyware accusations. The data it’s been collecting isn’t used for ad targeting, but to figure out whether the online marketing for a game actually enticed someone to buy it on Steam.
Red Shell claims it does this by creating two digital fingerprints: one for when the customer clicks on an ad, and another when they activate the game on Steam. The tool can then match who bought the game and where, and whether it came from an ad on Facebook, YouTube, or a Twitch channel.
“Red Shell tracks ‘device’ based information about your computer. We do not collect any personal information about gamers,” it said in a FAQ about its tool. “We don’t collect names, emails, or addresses. Our service basically says ‘this computer clicked on a link from this YouTube video and the same computer played your game.'”
Still, not everyone is buying the explanations, when concerns about data privacy remain high. “It’s spyware, that they (the gaming developers) tried to sneak into their software without telling anyone. That’s just unacceptable,” wrote one user on Steam.
The gaming community created a Google Doc with PC games that still appear to be using the marketing tool. In addition, Red Shell created a page about opting out from the game-based tracking.