Slapped In The Facebook: Social Site Is Sued Over Privacy Missteps

While Facebook faces a class action suit, Blizzard seeks to force its users to reveal themselves with Real ID.

Today we have a story of two social sites as they grapple with making their users reveal information about themselves (and stomping on privacy along the way). You knew it had to happen sooner or later: Facebook is being sued over privacy. Meanwhile, multi-player game site Blizzard is implementing something it calls Real ID to validate that users in its forums use only their real names. *Update - Breaking: Blizzard canceled Real ID requirement.

Facebook is being sued for breaching users' privacy by allegedly mishandling users' private information. The class-action lawsuit alleges that Facebook changed user privacy settings and its terms of service without adequate consent from users, rendering a significant amount of information public to the Web that had once been protected.  A Canadian law firm,  Merchant Law Group LLP, filed a suit against Facebook on behalf of Donald J. Woligroski, a Winnipeg resident and a registered Facebook user, and other class action members for an unspecified amount of damages. The suit also alleges that Facebook intentionally used Woligroski's information for commercial purposes. It calls the company's actions "malicious, deliberate, and oppressive."

Facebook has been plagued with privacy problems. Some users are growing increasingly fed up with having to constantly fiddle with new privacy settings or with having little knowledge about how their interaction with the site is being tracked or used.  This could be why fewer users joined Facebook in June than in previous months. Users worry of what more Facebook might do with their information. According to Retrevo statistics, one out of three users regret something they posted on Facebook and other social networks. If privacy problems are killing Facebook, will the same happen to gaming giant Blizzard as it moves to Real ID?

Blizzard embarked on a new "Real ID" initiative to positively identify users in their forums. Players who log in using Blizzard's Real ID system will have their real full names displayed next to every post they make. These enforced de-anonymization changes will not be retroactive, keeping the thousands of existing posts on the online forums anonymous. In the future, however, users will have only two options when posting to the forums; accept Real ID or quit.

Like Facebook, Blizzard feels powerful enough to alter the bargain with users in regard to privacy. But there is a third possibility for Blizzard's users. Instead of accept or quit, perhaps a third option would be private accountability and responsibility through public pressure and outcry. So far, on World of Warcraft General Discussion forum, there are 2,495 pages arguing against Blizzard's Real ID system. Those are only North American users.

Hello, Blizzard, many of your users hate the creepy and intrusive Real ID initiative. Yet Blizzard has over 11.5 million subscribers and seems to be ignoring the public outcry from their users. Even if half of its users choose the option to quit, Blizzard's subscribers would still be substantial. If enough users could hit them where hurts, money, the bottom line is its profits. Hurt that and Blizzard will hear you.

According to the EFF, Blizzard appears to have subscribed to the colorful Greater Internet F***wad Theory. Blizzard posted that the forums have earned a reputation as a place where flame wars, trolling and other unpleasantness run wild. The company states that removing the veil of anonymity by having users post with their full real name will contribute to a more positive forum. I’m not sure that forcing people to use actual names will change human nature ... people are people ... online they are often kind, often funny and often jerks.

Blizzard is flexing its muscle and legal right to set rules and regulation for its forums. You, the 11.5 million users, have the choice and the right to flex your privacy muscles and make Blizzard forums ghost towns as opposed to accepting Real ID.

Could it work? Hello Blizzard, meet Facebook. Facebook has always required users to use their real names. Now it’s being sued.

*Update: Be encouraged! A public outcry by the masses can still save privacy.

According to the World of Warcraft forum:

...However, when we launch the new StarCraft II forums that include these new features, you will be posting by your StarCraft II character name + 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.

I want to make sure it's clear that our plans for the forums are completely separate from our plans for the optional in-game Real ID system now live with World of Warcraft and launching soon with StarCraft II.

In closing, I want to point out that our connection with our community has always been and will always be extremely important to us. We strongly believe that Every Voice Matters.

Victory, privacy warriors!

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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