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Civilization VI removes Red Shell ad-tracking software

A patch for Civilization VI last night removed Red Shell, a controversial piece of software that track ads for the game which players might have viewed. Considering that a common event in any game of Civ is once-friendly faces turning sour after they discover you’ve been spying on them, you’d think publishers 2K might have just… not. But they did. Red Shell has risen to prominence in recent months for all the wrong reasons, discovered in games from Vermintide 2 to Conan Exiles by players who were none too happy to find it. Many developers have removed Red Shell from their games or pledged to, and here’s Civ doing its part.

Red Shell is software trying to determine whether a game’s advertising has been successful. When someone clicks on certain Shelled adverts online, it logs a “fingerprint” for their system based on data including the operating system, timezone, installed fonts, screen resolution, and such. And when someone launches a Red Shell game for the first time, it similarly generates and logs a fingerprint. Then the system tries to match ad-viewing fingerprints to game-playing fingerprints, which would give the marketing mob a fairly clear indication that an ad has been successful. Advertising budgets being driven by metrics, it’s data they want. And, unsurprisingly, it’s data which many players are not best pleased to discover the marketeers have been recording.

Backlash against Red Shell has simmered for a while amongst individual games then boiled over to wider awareness in June, as cheery RPS fanzine PC Gamer reported. Developers and publishers behind games including Conan Exiles, The Elder Scrolls Online, Hunt: Showdown, and Total War have vowed to remove Red Shell – or already removed it.

“Whilst Red Shell is only used to measure the effectiveness of our advertising, we can see that players are clearly concerned about it and it will be difficult for us to entirely reassure every player,” said Total War devs Creative Assembly, for example. “So, from the next update we will remove the implementation of Red Shell from those Total War games that use it.”

Other statements were broadly the same: a defence along the lines of “it’s not spyware as bad as you might think but yeah we get you’re skeezed out and we will remove it.”

Now it’s gone from Civ too. Though the marketing mob will have already got their data from people who bought it, so it’s not like they’re entirely unsatisfied.

If you wish to remove your computer from future Red Shell tracking, you can opt out through its website. That relies on a browser cookie, so you will need to repeat that on any different browsers and devices.

All this mess overshadows actual proper good news from Civ: yesterday’s patch also adding cross-platform multiplayer between Windows and Mac versions.

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Alice O'Connor

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