Real ID – A Blessing and a Curse

When I was in school, in one of my computer science classes we read a book called “The Transparent Society.” The idea behind the book is that we will inevitably lose privacy outside of our own home in exchange for potential greater freedom. Obviously I cannot cover the entire book in this small of a post. The book touches on the ideas of traffic cameras being extended to walkways and parks with the public having the ability to use the Internet to view the feed of any camera. Committing a crime becomes a lot less appealing when at any given time you are being filmed and that anyone could be watching.

Regardless of whether or not I agree with the entirety of the points made in the book, some of it is true regardless. For example, England has not earned itself the friendly title of “Nanny State” for nothing.

Before we move forward, if you are confused about the system, take a gander at this page regarding the system.

After being around the Internet for sometime now, the ideas behind single sign-on are both a blessing and a curse (OK, working in the post title here was not planned). Not having to remember different user names and passwords for all the sites I visit is awesome. But at the same time, while I love Pandora, its ability to automatically search my Facebook profile if I am currently logged for music I have listed that I like and automatically start playing is great from a technological stand point. But from a privacy thing, perhaps I don’t want what I have listed on Facebook automatically being pulled into another website.

Integration and reduced privacy for ease-of-use and convenience.

But that is the world we live in. Integration and reduced privacy for ease-of-use and convenience. But what is this rambling about? Well it’s about the implementation of Real ID in Blizzard products.

As you know Blizzard recently implemented the ability to add people to your friends list using their Real ID compatible email address. Currently on my friend’s list the only person I have added using Real ID has been my wife. When Starcraft 2 hits, I am sure that I will add 2 or 3 more real life friends. I am not opposed to adding more people, but I really haven’t needed to or been asked to.

Sometimes you like being able to play an anonymous alt. After leading a raid or playing Arena you want to log on to that level 24 Rogue you have on some unrelated server and enjoy Duskwood again. Obviously with Real ID some of that is removed. But its not like I could stop my wife from walking in from the other room and talking to me. In it’s current implementation, the Real ID friends is exactly what it needs to be. Allowing friends whom you trust with your real name be able to find you on any character on any server, or in any Blizzard game. And of course by “any” I just mean WoW and Starcraft 2.

Blizzard’s statement that the future Battle.net forums for games … will display the user’s real name instead of a chosen moniker or character name.

However their recent announcement has stirred the gaming community. There is a 1200 page thread on the WoW General forums filled with people expressing their chagrin with Blizzard’s statement that the future Battle.net forums for games like WoW, SC2, and one can only assume Diablo 3, will display the user’s real name instead of a chosen moniker or character name. This is using a system using the confusing name of “Real ID.”

Their reasons being stated are “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.”

If there is one thing that absolutely is true is “John Gabriel’s Greater Internet Theory.”

But with that being said, many people strive to keep their offline identities separate from their online persona. The number of reasons have been outlined by countless posters in the related thread. These range from things like people being military personnel, people not wanting their ex to find information about them, keeping hobbies secret from current/future employers, worried about their children accidentally posting, law enforcement officials, or people just wanting to keep their “escape from reality” detached from reality.

And to me it seems those are as valid reasons as any. There are plenty of people who are telling folks to just get over it and that personal information already exists online. Which might be true, but that is besides the point. Because ‘random Internet database 123′ has this personal information that may or may not be easily accessible doesn’t mean that ‘random Internet database 583′ should ignore privacy concerns because “Hey, the other site didn’t care about privacy so we can ignore it too!” People should have the option.

Many have said “Well, don’t post on the forums.” That’s great until you want to use the Tech Support forums because your Blizzard downloader isn’t working. Or if you want to use the Guild Recruitment forums. Most guild applications don’t even ask for your real name (at least not the ones I’ve ever filled out) yet the forums for it will now display it.

Most guild applications don’t even ask for your real name yet the forums for it will now display it.

And people using their names as their email addresses is a common practice. Full names are just one step closer to many people’s log in information.

Frankly this is a huge can of worms I didn’t expect Blizzard to open. The method they quickly handled previous situations like the Gay and Lesbian guilds in the past, focusing being a game company rather than a vehicle for political statements seems interestingly absent from this decision. Especially with simple solutions like allowing people to choose a single nickname for use on all subsequent Blizzard forums.

The community is pretty up in arms about the situation and I am very curious to see how Blizzard responds. Thoughts, opinions, etc. Post ‘em!

UPDATE: Blizzard has decided, for the time being, to reverse their decision to display real names on their game forums. http://forums.worldofwarcraft.com/thread.html?topicId=25968987278&sid=1

About Drotara

Drotara (or BehemothDan) considers himself a geek on many levels. A web developer and programmer by trade, he has no shortage of geeky hobbies. When not fulfilling husband and daddy duties, he enjoys WoW, the WoW TCG, Magic: The Gathering, and great board games with friends and family.