Steam overhauls privacy settings, locking SteamSpy out

Valve have overhauled the privacy settings for Steam user profiles, letting us hide more data and setting more of it to be hidden from strangers by default – including the list of games you own. Good. More online platforms should default to hiding personal data. We can now hide our playtime on games if we want too, so our pals can e.g. see that we own The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth but not that we’ve played it for e.g. 871 hours, in case we feel e.g. shame about that (not me: I’ll tell you it’s just that good).

This does have the knock-on effect of locking out Steam Spy, the popular non-Valve site which scans vast numbers of public profiles to estimate how many people own a game and how much they play it. In a secretive industry, it’s one of the few ways to have a sense of how well a game is doing.

Steam’s new ‘game details’ privacy setting covers things including, Valve explain, “the list of all games on your Steam account, games you’ve wishlisted, your achievements and your playtime. This setting also controls whether you’re seen as ‘in-game’ and the title of the game you are playing.” You can also choose to keep your total playtime on games private, even from people who can see your game list.

You can set game details to be visible to everyone, only to people on your Friends list, or only to yourself. By default, everyone is now set to friends-only. Thanks to an error, you can’t currently change that from within the Steam client or some browsers. The privacy settings menu is broken in both Steam and Chrome for me, though it does work in Microsoft’s Edge. Yep, that’s a big mistake.

Valve say they’re also planning to give Steam an “invisible” online status option, where “you’ll appear as offline, but you’ll still be able to view your friends list, send and receive messages.”

“Like many Steam features, these privacy options come directly from user feedback,” Valve say.

Some have speculated that this might also be related to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), a European Law focused on making companies be more responsible with our data, which comes into effect in May. One tenet of the GDPR is having personal data be private by default, making users opt into sharing rather opting out – giving consent, not withdrawing it. Whatever the reason, it’s responsible to keep data private by default. Steam should hide more, really.

Setting everyone’s Steam library to be private by default does cause problems for third-party sites which rely on them being public. Some are fixed by changing your setting. Steam Spy won’t work at all.

Steam Spy is a site which estimates owners, players, and playtime for all games on Steam – data that Valve keeps secret. It does this by scanning around 800,000 public user profiles per day then extrapolating for the entire Steam userbase. Many developers have said SteamSpy’s estimates broadly line up with their actual sales figures, though some have found it less accurate. Seeing as Steam Spy draws from game lists on public profiles, setting this private by default seems to kill the site.

“Steam Spy relied on this information being visible by default and won’t be able to operate anymore,” owner Sergey Galyonkin tweeted last night. The number of people who now choose to set their profiles public would be too small and too self-selecting to be useful data, and it sounds like other possible techniques would be too imprecise and too much work. “I’ll probably still keep the archive,” he added.

On one hand, I have seen many developers talk about using SteamSpy numbers to help make business decisions. SteamSpy’s estimates are one of the few points of comparison available in an industry that’s so secretive – and so volatile. This is a loss.

On the other hand, I have also seen a great many players using SteamSpy numbers to advance damned foolish arguments. When many people have a poor understanding of the business of games, SteamSpy’s numbers are often used to support–rather than challenge–misconceptions, stoking antagonistic sentiments and insistent opinions about what developers should do. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Some developers, including Wadjet Eye back in 2015, have expressed discontent with fans using Steam Spy’s estimates to incorrectly speculate about their success and fate. Spectating the industry can be fun but it’s often to harmful ends.

If you’ve been using SteamSpy to check whether a multiplayer game has a healthy number of players, you can still use Steam Charts to see concurrent playercounts, as that uses data Valve do make publicly available.

42 Comments

  1. Andrew says:

    Forget about SteamSpy (dude who runs it is not that against gg, just sayin’), what about my achievement tracking websites?! My cheevos!

    Joking aside, everything would work if you set that stuff to public. And it was like that before, so don’t panic.

  2. satan says:

    If you’ve set everything on private you’ll no longer bombard your friends list with what you’re playing (e.g. when you’re constantly restarting Skyrim to get your mods working), because not even your friends can see what you’re playing!

    I’ve been wanting this setting for years, I never thought we’d get it! Man, sometimes the little victories are the sweetest.

    • Someoldguy says:

      Other than Steam Spy indicating relative game poularity, which appears dead, about the only things I’d shed a tear over is the list of global achievements accomplished by % of the playerbase. Hopefully Steam can figure a way of keeping that sort of anonymised data available.

        • Someoldguy says:

          Yes. Not sure if that is going to have any meaningful data going forward. It’s clearly still a thing for now on games you’ve played historically.

          • Andrew says:

            It seems that they didn’t changed anything about collecting info on you. So they still know how many players are running that game, how many are got that achievement, etc., etc. So they still can show this (anonymous) information. And I don’t see a good reason for them to stop. Showing big numbers is good for Valve, you know.

            Achievement stats are less important, but they are already there, so why change it, really.

          • Babymech says:

            …that link is to a Valve site. It’s even a Steam subsite. They’re not planning to block Steam from seeing what you’re playing, games you’ve purchased, or achievements you’ve earned. That would break steam. They’re just disabling 3rd party services from browsing your personal data, and Steamspy is of course a 3rd party service.

  3. Kefren says:

    I set everything as private. Presumably my reviews will still show up?

    It’s a good move, but I wish Steam would fix the basics. I can post reviews but I can’t reply to comments on my own reviews because I haven’t got extra software installed, meaning I have to edit the review itself to put my new comments in. That’s a mess. Likewise I allowed Steam through my firewall, and can download and install games, but all other web elements of Steam don’t work (including it being unable to display the EULAs I have to agree to – can’t see them being legally binding when I just see an error page and an “accept” option). Obviously Steam uses other parts separate from the main client, and as they are unknown to me I can’t let them through the firewall. The hundreds of little niggles (oh, another – not being able to completely disable achievements; and also, not clearly showing what DRM is in each game, if any, prior to purchase) mean I buy two thirds of my games on GOG now, where I can just download the exe and install it and not need to bother with clunky software I don’t want or need.

    • lancelot says:

      I’ve always been replying to comments on news/reviews through the website, that doesn’t seem to have any issues.

      Also, changing the firewall isn’t a light undertaking, but you can get a firewall that notifies you about outgoing connections, then you just have to whitelist all those Steam Helpful Helpers once.

      • Kefren says:

        Weird – I try it on the website but it always tells me something like I can’t comment or use community stuff unless I install Steamguard.

        • lancelot says:

          Yes, that might be it, I have “Steam Guard email” enabled. It doesn’t require you to install anything, but “Steam Guard mobile” does.

        • Optimaximal says:

          SteamGuard is a good thing – it’s two-factor authentication.

          • Premium User Badge

            daktaklakpak says:

            Actually, it’s _two-step_ authentication, not two factor.

            *polishes brim on pedant hat*

            It’s still a good idea to turn it on.

        • jrodman says:

          Valve has steadily required steam guard for more and more of their service. Pretty soon you won’t be able to play your games if you don’t turn it on.

          It’s clear why they do this. Accounts get compromised and that costs Steam time and that costs steam money. It also lowers the experience for their customers.

          Unfortunately steam guard email is incredibly dumb, and is always challenging you because you took your laptop to work again. With mobile it gets a lot less uptight.

  4. Jernau Gurgeh says:

    One thing I’d like to be able to do is selectively hide individual titles on the list of games on my profile, like you can already do in the in-client Library. Not just to hide potentially embarrassing things like Bad Rats 2, Disney Princess, that vast hoard of sexy Japanese dating sims, and Call Of Duty: Infinite War… but all the superfluous stuff like ittybitty DLC and older deader versions of games and junk stuff you got in a bundle but will never play.

    For example, I have a shed load of extra content for RPG Maker VX Ace that I purchased in a sales bundle that completely clogs up my list and it’s very very annoying and I HATE HATE HATE IT and it triggers my OCD and I eventually commit acts of seditious blasphemy and hope GabeN gets bum cancer and DIES before Half-Life 2: Episode 3 gets made because I HATE THE WORLD and everyone in it, especially YOU!!!!!

    Perhaps that feature will be enabled in a coming update.

    • welverin says:

      They did add the ability to out right delete a game from your library a while ago, if you’re o.k. with not owning it at all anymore.

    • darthfergie says:

      You could also just categorize it so that it just shows up at the bottom. I’ve got a number of things I don’t care to scroll through that are categorized as “Z-Archive” and on category view I never see them since I collapse that category.
      ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

      • jrodman says:

        The categorization functions for games and DLC are clunky but functional. The categorization functions for the *inventory* of random steam items is nonexistent.

      • HiroTheProtagonist says:

        I personally go with two categories: Pointless Crap (OSX versions listed separately from Windows, Test Servers) and Buyer’s Remorse (usually stuff from Humble Bundles). They’re kind of outdated nowadays, since most of the titles in the store don’t list macOS versions separately anymore and Humble Bundles tend to have individual keys per game, but they were useful at the time.

      • Jernau Gurgeh says:

        No, no. You’ve misunderstood me, though I did state that to which I was referring in my opening sentence. I’m not frothing maniacally about the in-client Library that you can customise to your hearts content (thanks Gabe!). I’m talking about your public-facing list of stuff owned that can be seen from your profile.

        I’d like to be able to hide the superfluous junk that clogs up that list such as DLCs and assorted crud, tidying it up so it’s just a list of games. I wouldn’t necessarily want to ask to have them completely deleted from my account because then I wouldn’t have them any more at all, which might make me sad.

        I would link to my list to show you what I mean but I might get rude people being rude to me, because that’s the way the internet is these days.

  5. bambusek says:

    Looks like it also broke Idle Master.

    • Andrew says:

      It seems working for me. I don’t have a game to test it fully, but it logs in and such.

      • bambusek says:

        Logs for me too. Then says “Idling finished” despite the fact I have still a lot of cards to farm.

        • Andrew says:

          And your profile is public? Hm, that can be annoying.

          • bambusek says:

            Yeah, turned out other people have the same issue and solution has been found. It is working again now :)

    • Optimaximal says:

      Working fine for me…

      link to imgur.com

      • bambusek says:

        Yup, managed to fix it with help from people on steam forum. :)

  6. Bobtree says:

    IsThereAnyDeal needs your game details to be public so it can update your wishlist and collection automatically.

  7. jakedrake says:

    Just leaving a little thumbs up to Alice, your humo(u)r cracks me up every time. :D

  8. lancelot says:

    Thanks RPS, I had no idea Steam privacy settings had changed. I think I’ll change Game details back to Public, once in a while it may be useful to someone if they want to find “more of the same” by looking at my inventory and wishlist. A separate setting for in-game status would be nice though.

  9. welverin says:

    Only 871 hours, pfft, that’s nothing.

  10. sleepisthebrotherofdeath says:

    Just like Facebook I’ll be setting my profile to globally readable. On the internet there is no such thing as privacy, everything will be leaked eventually.

    • Andrew says:

      Ew, no, stop leaking everywhere! I don’t want your dick pics. Set your private to private, private.

      (for the joke purposes I’m assuming your gender, no offence)

      • pepperfez says:

        Regardless of sex or gender, if you’re on the internet you end up with someone’s dick pics.

    • mitrovarr says:

      At least with Facebook you always want to set everything private because other people post stuff about you that ends up there. For example, my photos section is full of pictures of me at parties, etc. despite me never ever posting pictures like that and rarely if ever taking them. My friends have helpfully filled those in…

      • Don Reba says:

        You can set Facebook to ask for prior approval before tagging you.

        Settings > Timeline and Tagging > Review posts you’re tagged in before the post appears on your timeline?

  11. Laini says:

    Invisible mode I can get on board with because I’m an antisocial bastard most of the time but my games and playtimes? Is that something people were really bothered about?
    Or is it something publishers don’t want readily available that might deter potential customers?
    Will wee see Steam Charts stop working soon too?

  12. Cederic says:

    It’ll be a shame to lose SteamSpy but I can’t complain about a company improving users’ ability to retain their privacy.

  13. Don Reba says:

    The social networks are acting in the most self-serving way, as always.

    When the fake-news scandal broke out, Facebook, with poorly concealed eagerness, conceded that it could exercise greater control over news sources, if that’s what it took to preserve democracy.

    Now, in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook and Steam erect walls to keep their data to themselves, making their users more captive than before.

  14. Premium User Badge

    alison says:

    This is an extremely unfortunate change. I do get the privacy concerns, but the public list of games was far and away the most useful thing about the Steam storefront. The first thing I do when I see a review that seems helpful is check that person’s profile and adjust my assessment based on the types of games they normally buy. And I immediately dismiss any reviews written by people with hardly any games or no hours played. I really hope they provide an option to filter out reviews of everyone who doesn’t make their game list public. In my opinion there’s pretty much no point in having user reviews at all any more without it.