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Civilization VI explains what it's tracking about you and why

2K Games have taken the curious and welcome step of explaining what data Civilization VI collects about you, your computer, and your play – and why. It’s fairly common for games from big publishers to report back, but rare for publishers to say what it’s doing and why. The license we have to agree to ostensibly gives them permission, after all. Most evidently don’t think it’s in their best interests to be open, which is unfortunate because it is in ours. Whether you’re okay with how much data they collect, ah, that’s up to you; at least now we can make a more-informed decision.

Resentment around Civ 6’s data-gathering has simmered since early 2018, sparked by people giving the game’s End User License Agreement (EULA) and parent company Take-Two’s privacy policy a good close inspection after updates in January and May 2018, respectively. Those documents are broad enough to cover far more data-gathering than you might expect or want. This irritation was amplified in February when the game implemented Red Shell, a tracking tool which tries to tell when someone buys and plays a game after seeing an advert for it. Red Shell was removed in July 2018 but it having been there at all and the broadness of Take-Two policy means that Civ 6 has ever since been maligned for spying. Which it definitely is doing a little, but 2K say it’s less than some fear.

Hoping to address concerns and halt negative player reviews on Steam, yesterday 2K laid out what they’re collecting and why.

“When a player agrees to the Privacy Policy, the player’s SteamID and Steam Alias (if the user has one) are collected and stored securely by T2; this data is used to improve Customer Service. Personal information, such as email address and birth date, is collected when a user voluntarily registers for a 2K Account and is required to participate in our Online Services. The amount of personal information we collect depends on your use of our Online Services.

“Civilization VI collects telemetry for gameplay actions like session start/stop times, system information (e.g. video card type/DXX11 and DX12 devices), in-game economics, tech boosts, game settings and other stats that help with our ongoing commitment to improve the gameplay experience and make the AI a better player. We collect select hardware information for tuning the game to run better on the wide variety of systems used by our players. We also may collect bug reports containing game logs; these help us proactively fix bugs without users having to contact our Customer Service department.”

That’s what they say they’re collecting, at least. And that’s… not too bad, about what I’d expect. I’m even in favour of them gathering play data to fine-tune balance and improve, if it’s something I know they’re doing. If this is all they’re doing, eh, sure, I’ll still play Civ 6.

While upset around Civ 6 has simmered for over a year, I would not be surprised if 2K choosing this particular week to be more open was partially motivated by the recent furor over Epic’s Store client poking into users’ Steam accounts. Now is a good time to come clean.

The issue still stands that 2K–and so many other publishers with so many other games–have sprawling, borderline-illegible EULAs and privacy policies that lay claim to rights far beyond this. These often claim permission to share data with marketers, stores, governments, and other third-parties, data which can include things like your address, photo, and phone number. Even if publishers don’t use this to awful ends, they’re saying they have the right to – and should not be at all surprised when people find this upsetting.

I’m definitely in favour of companies explaining what data they intend to gather and why, in plain language rather than legalese. If the legalese is claiming permission to do more than the plain-language explanation says, then companies should either explain it or cut it. Ideally cut it.

Of course, all this pales in comparison to what Google and Facebook and such do on a daily basis. They’re proven to be reshaping society in terrible ways, from interfering with elections, through Brexit, to spreading and normalising so many forms of hate. Wah wah wahhh. Throw me back into the sea, I want out.

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Alice O'Connor

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When not writing news, Alice may be found in the sea.

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