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Privacy Entertainment Games Science

Researchers Snag 60 TB of Everquest 2 Behavioral Data 66

Posted by Soulskill
from the only-59.9-TB-of-it-is-elf-roleplaying dept.
A group of researchers who went from game developer to game developer looking to acquire data for studying online social interaction got more than they bargained for. Sony Online Entertainment keeps extensive server logs of everything that happens within Everquest 2. When the researchers asked if there was anything they could look at, SOE was happy to share the entire EQ2 database — upwards of 60 TB — for their perusal. In addition to basic gender and age queries — who interacted with whom, and when — the scientists are also trying to find ways to track more subjective characteristics, such as performance, trust, and expertise. "To get estimates of them, the team is experimenting with trying to track physical proximity and direct interactions, such as when characters share experience from an in-game victory. To give a concrete example of the data's utility, Srivastava described how he could explore the phenomenon of customer churn, something that's significant for any sort of subscription-based service, like cell phones or cable TV. With the full dataset, the team can now track how individual customers dropping out of the game influenced others who they typically played or interacted with. Using this data, the spreading rate and influence factor could then be calculated, providing hard measures to work with."
Update: 2/18 at 21:04 by SS: Sony contacted us to set the record straight about the shared information. All information that could identify players was removed from the data given to the researchers. Chat logs were not shared at all. Read on for SOE's full statement.
"The information Sony Online Entertainment provided for the research project was scrubbed of all PII (Personally Identifiable Information) prior to being provided to the researchers. For example, no content of any player chat logs were shared with the researchers. The information shared consisted of data such as which in-game characters chatted with each other and the volume and frequency of the contacts. None of this information was connected to, or linked with, the real names or other PII, of any players. Basically, the researchers looked at the connections between players and how their online networks were built and used, not the content of any actual conversations that these players may have had with one another (that content was not made available to the researchers). Additionally, some EQ2 players voluntarily participated in a blind survey concerning their playing habits and demographic backgrounds. This information was anonymously gathered and shared between SOE and the researchers. Finally, corporations such as SOE and the researchers' universities have controls and safeguards in place to help to protect the privacy of individuals who voluntarily participate in surveys for research projects such as this one."
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Researchers Snag 60 TB of Everquest 2 Behavioral Data

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  • Back in my day... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Fluffeh (1273756)
    People didn't trawl through 60 terabigadits of data to find out things about being social. They went down to road to the local shindig and tried to talk to a girl.

    Now, get off my porch.
    • by jack2000 (1178961) on Monday February 16, 2009 @02:09AM (#26869735)
      People didn't just go down the road to the local shindig. They organised meetings online and went on booze binges with fellow socially inept MMO players. We knew we were awkward, at least we were awkward Together!
    • by flyingsquid (813711) on Monday February 16, 2009 @03:33AM (#26870097)
      This reminds me of the study on that data downloaded from the Diablo II servers. After several years of research, they concluded that the data consisted of 60 terabytes of "clickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclickclick..."
      • Actually the average player is 31 and slightly depressed according to the data collected, I read that in the first article. A lot of the people only went online for about three hours a week to play, it doesn't sound that bad, seems like a substitute for TV. Sounds about right for online game playing, lots of bored people out there.
        • by HartDev (1155203)
          It sounds a little sad, I got sick of the clicking myself, I wonder if they will ever get Starcraft or WarcraftII and WarcraftIII data about the strategy's or is that not as important as behavior? And almost more importantly is Starcraft II ever gonna come?
  • by PDX (412820) on Monday February 16, 2009 @01:49AM (#26869613)

    The Female elves aren't what they appear to be. LOL

    Don't meet offline, trust me on this!

  • Body Mass Index?!? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    FTFA: Mostly, the gamers seemed healthy; their body mass index was better than the US average and, although they were slightly more depressed than average, they were also less anxious.

    How on earth is Sony measuring their customer's body mass index? I know 60 TB is a lot of data, but I don't believe that even the most magical of algorithms can derive player body mass indexes or whether they're "slightly more depressed than average" from it. I call bullshit.

    • by mail2345 (1201389)
      Web cams?
      But seriously, I'm certain that they just look up the player's real name in some sort of other data base(medical).
      • by Moraelin (679338) on Monday February 16, 2009 @05:12AM (#26870467) Journal

        Actually, it was probably a survey, but you do raise a valid issue there about privacy. Exactly how much data did Sony share?

        We were outraged that AOL shared some improperly anonymized search strings, which in some cases could lead to the guy's real identity. Here, if they even knew who to survey, it means that Sony just handed over RL names on a silver platter.

        What else? Chat logs? 60 TB is a hell of a lot of data. And probably a lot of things you said at one point, but didn't think them too carefully, and probably didn't mean them in the long run.

        As an easy example, think of all the people who've bought gold, or played a flirty female when they're male, or flirted with one who turns out to be male. Lots of public embarrassment potential. Or what if you talked about sex to someone who, as it turns out, was 8 years old? I'm sure some people would love to jump to conclusions there.

        Sent some tells about sometimes wanting to kill your classmates or co-workers? I'm sure those will be worth some hysteria when the next school shooting comes around. Talked about drugs or about homosexuality? I'm sure some future potential employers would make a fuss about that. Confessed playing or chatting from work 'cause you're the network admin and the logs don't apply to you? Well, now Sony's logs do. Etc.

        And how much of the billing data is in there, anyway? Enough for someone to steal your identity? But even if it was just enough to contact those people IRL and survey them, I'm guessing at least the email address must have been in there. I'm sure some spammers and phishers would love to have it too.

        Basically even if you trust that those researchers probably won't do that, the circle of people with access to someone's private data just grew. It only takes one irresponsible git or disgruntled admin, or even an insecure network which someone can break into and look around, for that circle to grow even further. How many steps until someone does do something unethical with it?

        Sony already did their part in not giving a flying fuck about protecting their customers' privacy, after all. It only takes one or two more people with the exact same cavalier attitude, before it bites some people in the arse for just trusting Sony.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          You both make good points about the privacy issues. Games like this are wide open to be data mined. But then the whole Internet is effectively an extension of this datamining. The whole Internet is becoming like a giant storage system to the data miners.

          Its like the old say, knowledge is power. Unfortunately some people fail to realize everything they do online giving someone else small fragments of power over them (and the small fragments add up) because that is the way the companies want it. They want to

        • by RobotRunAmok (595286) on Monday February 16, 2009 @06:40AM (#26870839)

          Sony already did their part in not giving a flying fuck about protecting their customers' privacy

          Why did you think you have any reasonable claim to privacy in an MMO? If you "sent some tells about sometimes wanting to kill your classmates or co-workers" not only would I not expect you to retain your privacy and anonymity, but I would expect Sony -- and anyone who read your tells -- to feel an obligation to notify the law. Talk "about sex to someone who, as it turns out, is 8 years old"? You should spend a night in jail just to cure you of your stupidity. Don't they teach you in school specifically *not* to make any assumptions about the age and gender of someone you "meet" online? You're worried that because you "Talked about drugs or homosexuality" potential employers might not hire you; if I were you I'd be concerned they wouldn't hire me because I lack any discretion and the common sense God gave a dog.

          Do not write anything in any online forum anyplace, even under a pseudonym, that you would not be comfortable having viewed by your teacher/boss/wife/husband/neighbor. Period. You do not have any right to privacy online (somehow this slipped past the Founding Fathers) and you are a fool if you expect any.

          • > Why did you think you have any reasonable claim to privacy in an MMO?

            While I admit that not all speech is protected and some of your examples might have a bit of validity, your sense of proportions is way out of line.

            > If you "sent some tells about sometimes wanting to kill your classmates or
            > co-workers" not only would I not expect you to retain your privacy and anonymity,
            > but I would expect Sony -- and anyone who read your tells -- to feel an obligation
            > to notify the law.

            Sony, maybe. Fr

          • Chilling effect? (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Moraelin (679338)

            1. I hope you realize that exactly that was what allowed the Soviet Union to keep its citizens in check.

            Yes, everyone knows about Stalin's brutal repression, but that was toned down a lot after Stalin. They discovered that you can control people easier by making them think you have a dossier on them, and they can eventually get bitten in the arse by something they said in the past. And that even something which doesn't outright warrant a one-way trip to Siberia can bite them in the arse in some other way. L

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by RobotRunAmok (595286)

              Stalin... Sakharov...

              Y'know, the real crime at the root of the online privacy debate has nothing to do with privacy, and everything to do with pretentiousness.

              We're not talking about Sakharovs, people with dangerous ideas who genuinely have something to say, we're talking about people disguised as Dark Elves "cheating" on their wives through chat channels in a video game, or -- dorkier still -- IT admins who believe anyone outside their small circle of friends around the cafeteria lunch table give two shits

              • Really? It seems to me that among other things you were already dismissing as "lacking the common sense God gave to a dog" were even discussing drugs or homosexuality.

                Make up your mind. Either we're talking about Dark Elves cybering and other uninteresting stuff, or about topics which affect legislation and taxes.

                E.g., it seems to me like debating homosexuality is how those guys got any rights in the first place. Otherwise we'd still be at the stage where it's a capital offense.

                E.g., discussing drugs seems

        • Yeah, I think these being "out in the open" is terrible if they do indeed have the chat logs. People definitely have motivation to get at these any way they can. There is a forum more or less specifically devoted to trashing EQ2 where there are a ton of people who would love to see these files both for the drama and to generate ad income from viewership discussing it. I also know more than a few jilted lovers whose entire wretched entangled relationship web played out in EQ2; someone who left her husband fo
        • by Hellpop (451893)

          Does anyone know what Sony's policy is or are we all speculating. If it says they can share this data, then you click "I agree" and play, then shut up about privacy.
          I know Sony has some draconian hiring policies, they put you through a wringer to find out if you are a good worker bee. You have to pass a "personality test" made up of vague questions with "yes or no" answers. Things like "Daydreaming is good, yes or no?" Depends. Operating heavy machinery, I'd have to go with bad. Relaxing in your backyard on

        • by RichiH (749257)

          My first thought about the story was: "Ugh, privacy!" so I agree with you, but this:

          > As an easy example, think of all the people who've bought gold [...] Lots of public embarrassment potential. ..made me smile.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by noliver (919724)

      ...I don't believe that even the most magical of algorithms can derive player body mass indexes or whether they're "slightly more depressed than average" from it. I call bullshit.

      TFA also states that the user data "was followed up with demographic surveys of the users." I'd wager that among the demographic information collected was height and weight, as well as some mental health type questions. Admittedly, those aren't questions I'd expect if someone was surveying me, but I'd probably ask them if I were surveying a group of Everquest players...

  • Sony keeps a giant database of what everyone is doing...yikes.
    • by Culture20 (968837)
      That's just the EQ DB. Imagine the one they have for all of the rootkitted machines' metadata.
  • what a waste of space.
    "social" data?
    from a MMO?
    my god man....I can find thousands of better reasons to use 60TBs of space and not have to use the best one of "for p0rn."

    shoot...mapping the world...mapping the oceans, mountains, space, al gore's head, folding, seti, another wayback project, etc.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by JaredOfEuropa (526365)

      what a waste of space.

      Not really, if running an MMO is what your company does. Keeping such logs is key to analysing game balance, tweaking the environment to optimise fun and game challenge, banning exploiters, and in general understanding the weak and strong points of your game, and fixing the weak ones. If you think those decisions are made solely on the basis of whiny posts on the forum, you have another think coming.

      The interesting part is that this data is now being analysed in a different way,

      • I can see why Sony was happy to allow their data to be used for this.

        I can see how Sony was happy, but I can't see how raping people's privacy for a buck is ethical in any form or shape. And in some parts of the world, it's probably even illegal.

        Because make no mistake, it was for money. Simply put, "Let's see if these people can figure out how we can make more money in subscriptions." Apparently the prospect of a quick buck is all it takes for a corporation to sell your data.

        From the biblical 30 silvers, t

        • And it was a great analogy until you beat it into the ground.
        • > Apparently the prospect of a quick buck is all it takes for a corporation to sell your data.

          The irony is that Sony is legally required to do that if it seems that that would increase its profits. The only thing which would justifiably prevent it would be a reasonable fear of bad publicity causing a decrease of revenue, instead. Hmm, how many Slashdotters play Sony MMOs? And exactly how many fewer will play Sony's games because of this?

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Glonoinha (587375)

            Maybe if they hadn't nerfed Necromancers (et.al) in EQ1 they would still have a bunch of those customers. The game became a overwhelming exercise in extreme frustration in which many a Necro silently wished extremely bad things on the entire staff of Sony, those nerf'ing motherfuckers. Looks like those wishes came true.

            I guess making lifetap a resistible spell wasn't such a great idea afterall, was it bitches?

        • by Bieeanda (961632) on Monday February 16, 2009 @08:24AM (#26871329)
          Expecting privacy in an MMO is like expecting Santa Claus to come down your chimney on Christmas Day: it displays a charming naivete when children express it, and psychotic ignorance in an adult.
        • by Lord Kano (13027)

          I can see how Sony was happy, but I can't see how raping people's privacy for a buck is ethical in any form or shape. And in some parts of the world, it's probably even illegal.

          That all depends on if they allowed the researchers to may in-game data to real world data.

          How is your privacy effected if the researchers find out that "WillowCakes341" had a middle-of-the-woods encounter with "BendyStraw_Jack"?

          LK

          • I understand your point, and it's a very valid one, but:

            1. Supposedly, they also found such stuff as what the average gamer age is, that they're slightly depressive, or what their BMI is.

            It doesn't exactly sound like that's strictly about the characters, sorry. (I'd think that all those dwarves and barbarians would have a higher BMI than these guys found;) As I was saying in another post, even if they then surveyed those people, the fact remains that they knew who and where to contact. I.e., at the very lea

  • Yikes (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Quothz (683368) on Monday February 16, 2009 @02:57AM (#26869923) Journal
    I hope by "everything" they don't mean "everything". If personally identifying information is included, Sony could be in a heap o' trouble.

    In particular, if the researchers have access to user/character names (or worse, real ones!), Sony could be in violation of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act. I'm not a lawyer, but:

    (F) any other identifier that the Commission determines permits the physical or online contacting of a specific individual;

    Particularly if names can be correlated to age, it seems unwise. Without assurance that personally identifying information is not in the data, any parent of an EQ player should be concerned that they were sent to "a collaborative group of academic researchers at a number of institutions".

    • COPA does not apply. From the EQ2 EULA:

      1. Accounts are available only to adults or, in their discretion, their minor child. If you are a minor, your parent(s) or guardian(s) must complete the registration process, in which case they will take full responsibility for all obligations under this Agreement. By clicking the "I Accept" button and providing us with a credit card number, you represent that you are an adult and are either accepting this Agreement on behalf of yourself or your child.

      • by Quothz (683368)

        COPA does not apply.

        Well, you're right about that. I goofed up; COPA is dead. COPPA, on the other hand, might well apply.

        I'm still not a lawyer, but since Sony's privacy statement claims they comply with COPPA, I'd suggest that the parent's agreement to the terms of use does not waive the child's rights under COPPA. Further, even if that wasn't the case, I'd think there'd need to be a specific provision detailing to whom the data can be disclosed. Nowhere does Sony make folks agree to share children's data with academic rese

  • So in the future when they have this all nailed down, if I am freaking awesome and everyone counts on me for something and they determine me leaving the game would cause like a dozen other people to quit the game cuz it's just not the same without me, they might start paying me to keep playing instead of me paying a subscription fee? :-D that'd be awesome lol.
    • And if you're not so awesome, you pay for the game, and also for the popular guys subscription as well. Awesome lol.
      The only one getting better from this is the guy owning the big server (and possibly the researchers who might sell this investigation for quite a bit of money, if they ever figure it out).

      I'd be more worried about such massive amounts of data being shared for commercial purposes. Hopefully still anonymous, but the word "privacy" or "anonymous" isn't even mentioned in the article.

    • by fractoid (1076465)
      Well... $15/month * 10 (assuming you rock at the game and you quitting really WOULD cause 10 people to quit) is still only $150/month. That's not much even for someone in council housing. Hell, that couldn't pay for my Mi Goreng addiction let alone the booze and internets. :P
  • Would be the month WoW came out. I lost most of my EQ2 buddies to WoW.

    • Yeah WOW was a huge factor...but it could have also been the MONSTROUS Trade nerf. I am one of those who played EQ until EQ2 then left because Sony never learned good player support. Ironically I forgive Blizzard alot because they NEVER beat me down like EQ-EQ2 did.
      • by vux984 (928602)

        What trade nerf are you referring to? I actually just started the EQ2 trial, so I'm curious, not defensive.

        I forgive Blizzard alot because they NEVER beat me down like EQ-EQ2 did.

        I played WoW for several months, but ultimately couldn't get over how simple it was. I played EQ1 prior to WoW, and I now wonder if WoW needed the nerf bat less, because it was a lot more bland to start with so that imbalances that needed 'correction' don't crop up nearly as often.

  • If chat logs were handed over to someone who is not SOE, then this transaction is a huge breach of privacy. Phone numbers, addresses, userids and passwords, admisison of illegal acts (smoking pot, drinking underage, sex underage, etc) all of these things are surely in the chat logs. I cancelled my EQ2 subscription about 3 weeks ago because of my own financial concerns. (The economy bites, if you hadn't noticed.) I told my guild about it and that I intended to return once it looks like I had some stabili

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