Blizzard Retreats from ID Plan After Users Gripe

Gaming giant Activision Blizzard today said it has abandoned plans to force commenters to use real names when posting on its World of Warcraft and StarCraft forums after loud protests from its users and others.

In a message posted on the company's Web site shortly before 1 p.m. EDT today, Activision Blizzard CEO Mike Morheieme said the company changed the plan announced earlier after receiving a raft of feedback, much of it criticizing the move, from users posting to the company's forums.

Blizzard on Tuesday had announced that later this month it would be requiring all subscribers to its World of Warcraft and Starcraft forums use their real names when posting comments.

In a post at the time, the company said the move was part of an effort to eliminate the "flame wars, trolling, and other unpleasantness" on its forums. "Removing the veil of anonymity typical to online dialogue will contribute to a more positive forum environment [and] promote constructive conversations," the company had noted.

While nixing that plan, Morheieme said the company remains committed to improving the forums by adding new features such as conversation threading and the ability to rate posts up or down.

The change was slated to take effect later this month and immediately stirred a vigorous debate on online privacy and anonymity issues.

Today's reversal is sure to come as a relief to the tens of thousands of outraged gamers who had deluged Blizzard forums since Tuesday to register their opposition to the proposed move.

As of this morning, this Blizzard forum, for instance, had close to 50,000 comments spread over some 2,500 pages. Most comments expressed concern that the forced use of real names on Blizzard forums would needlessly expose users to everything loss of anonymity and identity theft to stalking and other forms of harassment.

Blizzard's initial announcement also prompted broader discussions on online anonymity and privacy issues with large rights advocacy groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Center for Democracy and Technology expressing concern over the forced de-anonymization planned by Blizzard.

CDT for instance, warned that Blizzard's move would chill free speech, while EFF accused Blizzard of a "failed imagination".

Jaikumar Vijayan covers data security and privacy issues, financial services security and e-voting for Computerworld. Follow Jaikumar on Twitter at @jaivijayan , or subscribe to Jaikumar's RSS feed . His e-mail address is jvijayan@computerworld.com .

Read more about privacy in Computerworld's Privacy Topic Center.

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