ZeniMax apologizes for Elder Scrolls Online spyware, says it was ‘erroneously added’ and will be removed

Hey who here loves – nay, adores – officially sanctioned spyware? Lots of hands staying in laps, we see. You all sure? You aren’t secretly clamoring for studios to monitor your every action? Not even you Guild Wars 2 players?

Well, Elder Scrolls Online players aren’t too pleased at the discovery that ZeniMax is using a program called Red Shell to track where its players live and what they are doing as part of the game’s marketing effort. There’s a concerted effort on the forums to find the best way to either block or opt out of the spyware software for privacy reasons. The program also raises issues concerning Europe’s new GDPR laws, as players are not given the explicit option to opt in or out of the program, though that might be covered by the game’s privacy policy.

According to the Red Shell FAQ, the program “tracks device-based information about your” PC.

“We do not collect any personal information about gamers. 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.’ We have no interest in tracking people, just computers for the purposes of attribution.”

The tracker is operating only on PCs right now, although allegedly the software will be available for consoles in the future.

Source: Official forums, Reddit. Thanks Mel!
Update: ZeniMax’s Matt Firor has an official statement out on Red Shell, apologizing for it and promising to take it back out – in fact, it was never meant to go in in the first place. Here’s what the studio sent to us:

My apologies for the confusion over the integration of Red Shell into ESO. Here’s what happened: we have been experimenting with a better way to link which advertisements and web content new players see to the eventual account that is created in the game. The ONLY purpose this would be used for is to determine from which origin points our new players come from, so we can better plan where to place advertisements and other web content. Existing accounts will never encounter this, as they are already created.

Several factors came together in Update 18 and Red Shell was erroneously added to the live build when we were still testing and evaluating it. It has never been active in ESO, even though the base tech is in the client – i.e. it was never enabled. So, we will remove it from Update 18, which will take place in the PC/Mac incremental build scheduled for this coming Monday (it was never considered for Console, so won’t be in Tuesday’s U18 launch). We never should have done this without giving everyone a heads up it was coming, and we will learn from this mistake.

That being said, we are still investigating how to use this technology in the future to grow and sustain ESO more effectively. When/if we do so, we will give everyone a heads up with clear instructions as to what it is doing, how it is doing it, and how to opt-out should you so desire.

Check out the patch notes on Monday for the notice that Red Shell has been removed from U18, and we will keep everyone posted – and again, my apologies.



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