Big Blizzard is watching!

The WoW Watermark Matrix

All I see is blonde, brunette, redhead…

All right, ladies and gentlemen, it’s tinfoil hat time: I don’t know if you’ve heard about this, but it looks like Activision Blizzard has been secretly watermarking every single World of Warcraft screenshot you’ve ever taken since 2008 with some rather sensitive information, including not just your WoW login name but also your IP address.

Now it’s no secret that Blizzard’s own Terms of Service give them the right to collect information about your computer.  However, there’s nothing in the ToS that says that it’s going to secretly watermark each of your screenshots with a QR code that anyone can access if they’ve got a copy of the screenshot – so I hope you’ve been locking down your Photobucket accounts.

Fuck you, Arthas.

November 15, 2010, 10:19:08 PM. It’s all in the file name.

Now, I had a screenshot of my own that I wanted to check to see if this was legit or not, but unfortunately the original website that documented the testing and steps it takes to actually expose this watermark has gone down for some reason.  Whether it’s gotten borked by sudden system traffic with people trying to access it, or if Activision Blizzard’s team of rabid attack lawyers went on the offensive and fired off a cease-and-desist letter faster than you could say “Zionist Conspiracy,” it’s currently unclear.  All I can say is that if this shit is true, it looks pretty bad.

I’m going to keep an eye on this, however, and see if the info comes back up.  It’s not like you can’t get at least a little bit of information from a raw WoW screenshot anyway, considering the default file name is stamped with the local time and date it was taken, and you can snoop a bit based on the content of the shot, but there’s nothing there that would necessarily give away your god damned IP address or login name.  I’m suddenly glad I left WoW far behind a while back – of course now I’m kind of giving my copy of Guild Wars 2 the ol’ fish-eye.  I guess I just won’t take any screenshots.

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13 thoughts on “Big Blizzard is watching!

  1. Ok, I read a lot of that thread you posted, but god damn, I don’t think I have enough tinfoil. I did some heavy skimming, and all I can gather is that it may, or may not be there, and it may or may not contain your information, so why the hubub? I’m asking honestly. As even the creator of the thread said later on in it, “hackers can figure out which alts belong to an account id and then perhaps use this information to carry out targeted spam or scam attacks.

    If they manage to scam you into giving them your password, it’s not the watermark’s fault; it’s yours.”

    Is it just that they’re “watching” you? I don’t understand the fury.

    • For me, it’s summed up in this quote from that article:

      “Based on Blizzard’s ToS (http://us.blizzard.com/en-us/company/legal/wow_tou.html), Blizzard is allowed to communicate information about our hard drive, CPU, operating systems, IP addresses, running tasks, account name and current time and date. It never mentions anything though about embedding some of these data into every screenshot we capture using the WoW printscreen tool. The users assume that Blizzard will use a safe channel via battle.net, not our public screenshots that we share with the world, unaware of their secret contents. This unencrypted watermarking mechanism fails to protect our privacy, not from Activision employees (they already know everything about our computer systems), but from malicious hackers looking for something or someone to take advantage of.”

      If the shit was encrypted at least nominally I don’t think I’d have a problem with it. The fact that anyone with a free piece of software and some time on their hands can access this info just kind of annoys me.

      • Understood, but at the same time, all I got from that was that your account number and an IP address came up along with a timestamp. How is anyone actually going to link that to your house on pickle street, bumville, USA?

        1) Your ISP cannot give that kind of personal information without a court order, that I don’t think a whole lot of hackers are going to bother getting.

        2) It’s the kind of information that we give to practically every company we deal with. And if someone is going to be at all successful in trolling you with that information, the responsibility lies square on you. It’s kind of like how your SSN used to be top secret give to no one stuff, and then it became used for EVERYTHING. That to me is more worrisome than someone getting a hold of my battle.net account.

        I understand the whole tinfoil hat “big brother watching!” paranoia, but honestly, you give out a lot more doing a lot less.

      • I guess my concern is why it’s such a big secret. I mean Blizzard makes a big deal about telling you to keep any and all account details under wraps, but then encode part of that same information in every screenshot you take without telling you.

        Yeah, it’s their party and they’ll do what they want, but why try so hard with one hand to keep your stuff secure and then put portions of it out there unencrypted and for free in every screenshot?

        I guess it really doesn’t matter from a practical standpoint, as most people who aren’t idiots have an Authenticator attached to their account.

  2. Several other people in various linked articles also brought up that if you have a problem with this kind of watermarking, never ever post any picture you ever took from your phone. Your blood type and shoe size are practically imprinted on those.

    • Well that’s almost true for any kind of digital photograph. It’s easy to read EXIF data from an image file that was generated by a cell phone camera or a digital SLR – newer ones with GPS capabilities will often geotag the picture as well. So yeah, no taking pictures of your junk and posting them “anonymously” on the internet.

      • Too bad hardly anyone makes it anymore.

        One of my neighbors did a “store unit blind auction” where you make bids sight unseen on the contents of a unit that’s been forfeited. He got an actual dark room print maker.

        No one knew what the hell it was till I identified it.

      • Man, I still sit out on the porch with the neighbors almost every night, even if it’s just to sit down and have a smoke for a few minutes.

        When I tell people that, the look of envy in their eye is evident.

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