The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Editor's blog

December 9, 2013

News & Comment: Gamer spying. Google, Facebook, Yahoo challenge data collection.

As Edward Snowden's leaks continue, we discover the CIA and FBI were spying on World of Warcraft players. At the same time, execs of Google, Facebook and Apple say the man has gone too far in securing their customers info through "requests" of their special court.

The execs got together and kind of did a collective "letter to the government." From the Associated Press report:

"In a statement, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer said the NSA disclosures had "shaken the trust of our users."

Google CEO Larry Page and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, two of the richest people in the world, also chimed with statements urging the U.S. to adopt reforms to protect personal information.

U.S. intelligence officials have staunchly defended the electronic espionage, contending the NSA's tactics have helped disrupt terror attacks. Officials also insist that the agency takes care not to look at the content of conversations or messages by U.S. citizens.

Obama has asked a panel of hand-picked advisers to report on the spying issue this month and recently said he'll propose the NSA use "some self-restraint" in handling data. He maintains, however, that the NSA isn't interested in reading people's emails and text messages."

Ha! They may not be "interested" but that doesn't mean they're not doing it. Just reading between the lines a bit.

The letter offers 1984-like twist: People from private sector who collect your personal information telling the people from the public sector to stop being so good at it.

Fantasy game fertile ground for spy catching

You know writes and editors at The New York Times had fun with this one.

Headline: Spies' dragnet reaches playing field of elves and trolls

And a classic lead: "Not limiting their activities to the earthly realm, American and British spies have infiltrated the fantasy worlds of World of Warcraft and Second Life, conducting surveillance and scooping up data in the online games played by millions of people across the globe, according to newly disclosed classified documents."

Luckily, experts quoted in the Times article assure us that terrorists would not likely use World of Warcraft sites and games to create evil plots and hide identities and transfer money.

Spies have infiltrated the game and according to the Times: "have created make-believe characters to snoop and to try to recruit informers, while also collecting data and contents of communications between players."

We get some clarity from Peter Singer, an expert on cyber-security with the Brookings Institute, noting World of Warcraft is probably not prime hunting ground for terrorists.

He tells the Times: Games “are built and operated by companies looking to make money, so the players’ identity and activity is tracked,” For terror groups looking to keep their communications secret, there are far more effective and easier ways to do so than putting on a troll avatar.”

I now feel better about lack of terrorists in Warcraft.

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