Blizzard Gets Sued For Snooping On Gamers

04/30/98; 4:21 p.m. ET

By Andy Patrizio, TechWeb

Game developer Blizzard Entertainment is being sued for unlawful business practices, stemming from the revelation that the company's hot-selling new StarCraft snoops through players' hard drives and e-mails information to the company over the Internet.

The suit was filed by Donald Driscoll, an Albany, Calif., attorney, against Blizzard and its corporate parent, Cendant, of Torrance, Calif. Driscoll charges Blizzard violated laws prohibiting the introduction of a "contaminant" designed to transmit information from a user's computer without the user's permission.

Driscoll is not seeking monetary damages, but said he wants the company to stop the surreptitious collection of user information, which he called a "trap door." He suggests Blizzard write a patch that eliminates the trap door, and offer customers the opportunity to return the software.

All the company had to do was tell people it was going to search for information, Driscoll said. "People don't like software that invades their computers," he said.

But Blizzard defends the trap door, saying it was meant to determine if certain players unable to log onto the company's multiplayer gaming site, Battle.Net, were using pirated software. Without the security CD key that comes with each retail version of the game, a player cannot access the site.

StarCraft has been a huge hit for Blizzard, with more than 600,000 copies preordered and sales reportedly exceeding 1 million units in the first week. In addition to fears that the game itself is the target of pirates, there are programs floating around on the Internet that generate security keys for those using an illegal version of the game.

When news of Blizzard's snooping was made public last week, the company issued an apology, saying none of the personal information had been saved.

As for Driscoll's lawsuit, a Blizzard spokeswoman said the company has not received the complaint and "cannot comment on matters in litigation."

Besides Driscoll, most players interviewed by TechWeb said they were not bothered by Blizzard's actions. "The only people who were affected by this were the morons who stole the game," said Jesse Giles, in Houston. "As soon as you steal the game, you're committing an illegal act."

Nick Fox, of Waukesha, Wisc., agreed, saying credit card companies hold large amounts of personal information without legal liability. "I believe there are more major invasions of privacy than them finding out our real names, and everyone should chill," he said.

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