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Steam Spy Announces It's Shutting Down, Blames Valve's New Privacy Settings 97

Steam Spy, the world's most comprehensive game ownership and play estimator available to the public, announced that it "won't be able to operate anymore" thanks to recent changes to Valve's privacy policy. "Valve just made a change to their privacy settings, making games owned by Steam users hidden by default," the site's operators announced on its official Twitter account. "Steam Spy relied on this information being visible by default." The creator of the website, Sergey Galyonkin, suggested that the site will only remain as an "archive" from here on out. Ars Technica reports: Indeed, Steam's new private-by-default setting is the kind of proactive, data-protective move that sites like Facebook have faced repeated scrutiny about over the past decade. However, as of press time, we could not confirm exactly how these updated settings will work, thanks to the service's "edit privacy settings" page currently appearing blank. (This can be found in the Steam interface by selecting the word "profile" under the menu that appears when mousing over your username.)

Valve pointed out that Steam will also receive a long, long, long-awaited "invisible" function for Steam's online-status toggle, which will allow players to actively communicate with Steam friends while hiding from the general public, and that it will also specifically let players hide both game ownership and gameplay time counts from friends. The company explained that Tuesday's changes came "directly from user feedback," which Steam Spy founder Sergey Galyonkin questioned via his site's Twitter feed: "They said it was by users feedback which makes me as a person born in the Soviet Union very suspicious :)" After Epic Games founder Tim Sweeney applauded Valve's privacy-minded policy change, Galyonkin responded with his own opinion on why so much data was open on Steam in the first place: "This was always a compromise between being able to play with other people and privacy," he wrote in response. "It seems they moved towards privacy now."

Steam Spy Announces It's Shutting Down, Blames Valve's New Privacy Settings

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    With all the sudden outrage over "data" it's no wonder companies would rather hide it. Who really wants to be the next target in a politically motivated outrage campaign?

    • Re:Collateral damage (Score:5, Informative)

      by Mascot ( 120795 ) on Wednesday April 11, 2018 @06:33AM (#56416995)

      It's not only a good idea, in the EU it will be law then the GDPR goes into effect in May. If Valve did not make changes, they'd be liable for some pretty hefty fines for violating the regulation. They couldn't even just hide some legalese blurb way down in an EULA, when it comes to personal data it must be opt-in (and the opt-in must be a user action; a pre-checked consent checkbox is not sufficient), and information must be written in "clear and plain language".

      • by fazig ( 2909523 )
        Too bad they used the opt-out privacy approach then.
        For example I've got plenty of friends on Steam that never created a Steam community profile. They simply never touched that feature and I can still see their game details when visiting the store pages of the games in question through Steam. Also, in your own privacy settings you have to tick a checkbox that says: Always keep my total playtime private even if users can see my game details. Instead of something like "keep my total playtime playtime public
        • by Mascot ( 120795 )

          Wasn't the whole point that they are now changing to an opt-in system with opt-out being the default?

          • by fazig ( 2909523 )
            Yes, IF Valve's decision was to comply to the new EU regulation then they missed that particular point either on purpose or by mistake. Maybe they did it for other reasons. Maybe people with EU based IPs will get a different treatment once that regulation goes into effect. We'll have to wait and see unless someone wants to ask them.
            • by Mascot ( 120795 )

              The summary states the information is now hidden by default, are you saying that is incorrect?

              • by fazig ( 2909523 )
                Depends on what information we are talking about.
                In the beginning you could just not create a Steam community profile. This option was hiding all information except game play time and achievements, which was visible to your friends regardless. This is still true. You'll have to create a Steam profile and set either game details and or playtime to private if you don't want the people on your friendlist to be able to see it.
                In the current system your profile information is set to public, like it was before.
                • by Mascot ( 120795 )

                  In that case, I'd be inclined to agree with those who feel this change is mainly to lock down easy access to the sort of aggregated information Steam Spy provides. If it was out of privacy concerns, it would make sense for a lot more to be hidden by default. In particular friend list and group memberships.

      • by houghi ( 78078 )

        All please read about GDPR : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org] and the official site https://www.eugdpr.org/ [eugdpr.org]

        Both if you ARE living in the EU and if you are not. Because this will come up a LOT in future /. discussions.

      • by rhazz ( 2853871 )
        I don't understand why the kind of information SteamSpy used couldn't still be made available in aggregate. Surely Steam itself could post statistics on game adoption and current player base? I agree that personal data should be protected, but statistical data will still exist and could be published by Steam itself.
        • by Mascot ( 120795 )

          Steam publishing aggregate information would not be an issue from a GDPR perspective, as long as the source data is compliant (e.g. that it's collected because it is necessary for providing the service, and that the user has given consent).

          Steam doesn't, though, so this effectively means the end of the type of information SteamSpy provides.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I agree that it's bullshit that all the outrage is politically motivated (because that means the mob is looking for a scapegoat not a solution). But there SHOULD be outrage over data collection and the backdoor around the 4th amendment that has been created (as these companies are apparently allowed to sell the data or access to just about anyone, including the government who is not legally allowed to collect it themselves but does so in a more limited capacity anyway).

      I hope these companies (not Valve, as

    • What I don't get is why Steam Spy is shutting down. I hopped on over to TrueSteamAchievements.com and sure enough they have a tutorial on how to put your settings back:

      https://i.imgur.com/2jCQeVC.pn... [imgur.com]

    • Re:Collateral damage (Score:4, Informative)

      by sinij ( 911942 ) on Wednesday April 11, 2018 @09:10AM (#56417443)

      With all the sudden outrage over "data" ?

      What is your real life name? How much do you make? Do you have a side thing going on every Thursday that your spouse doesn't know about?

      You would be outraged if I knew these things about you, and rightfully so. It is called privacy, and it is crucial for social cohesion. Right now we have privacy by obscurity, the data is largely there but unless you unlucky to land in the spotlight it won't be looked at. However, this could easily change, as latest FB scandal showed us.

      • by radja ( 58949 )

        You're absolutely right, and that's why "the right to be forgotten" became law.

  • By user feedback. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by fazig ( 2909523 ) on Wednesday April 11, 2018 @06:23AM (#56416959)
    Of course it has nothing to do with the current facebook fiasco that Valve decided to be more open to these requests that must have existed since the very day the launched Steam.
    I remember quite a bit of pushback from people concerned with privacy and DRM proliferation in the early 2000's, who rejected Steam and all the other platforms after it for a long time. But in the end most of them caved in due to Steam's popularity. I'm one of them. And still I try to get the few games that I play in these times on alternatives like GOG if possible.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It's a good move even if it is prompted by fear. And it's a good indication that others might follow suit, now. With any luck the current focus on Facebook and CA will push many more online providers to consider their privacy settings and policies more seriously.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Given the 15 years they've spent adamantly ignoring requests for invisible mode or insisting that the thermonuclear "private profile" is the only real privacy option you get, I'd say it most likely is the Facebook fiasco that prompted this change.

      • Re:By user feedback. (Score:4, Interesting)

        by fazig ( 2909523 ) on Wednesday April 11, 2018 @07:18AM (#56417091)
        Yes, it's an improvement, but it's a bit lacking since the option isn't on by default as it appears. I think you only get that option if you create a Steam profile first.
        Most of my friends don't have Steam profiles, because that seems to be the most reasonable idea if you don't want other people to see your information, right?
        But of course that does not stop Valve from collecting data on your Steam usage since you can see their play times when you visit the store page of an individual game. From there I can look into their stats and see what achievements they've gotten at what time and so forth. It may not be the most efficient way to gather data for an individual user, but when automatism comes into play that's not an obstacle any more.
        • If your friends have steam accounts, they've got profiles regardless of whether they ever added anything to them (which is why you can see their list of games and time played). If they never edited their profile, they wouldn't have seen the option to make it private but that doesn't mean the option wasn't there all along.

          The changes Steam is making have made some things private that were public by default. I had to edit my profile to make a few things public that I want to be public because they'd been sw

          • by fazig ( 2909523 )
            Well. I had to edit my profile to make some things private that I wanted to be private but were public to my friends before. Hence a privacy mode does not seem to be the default setting.
            I also created a new account for testing purposes just now. I have to click once to set up my profile. Then I go to privacy settings and see that 'My basic details' are set to Public. 'My profile' is set to Public. 'Game details' set to Friend Only. 'Always keep my total playtime private even if users can see my game detail
  • by jareth-0205 ( 525594 ) on Wednesday April 11, 2018 @07:10AM (#56417077) Homepage

    Having a website with "spy" in the name that is explicitly exists to expose data about users... yeah perhaps that's not going to fly anymore.

  • Good (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    So, except for some vague data leech company losing out on income, how is this possibly a bad thing?

    • A lot of smaller developers believe Steam Spy's dubious data to be useful. They are complaining loudly now because they are clueless about privacy.

  • by DRJlaw ( 946416 ) on Wednesday April 11, 2018 @07:40AM (#56417141)

    Valve pointed out that Steam will also receive a long, long, long-awaited "invisible" function for Steam's online-status toggle, which will allow players to actively communicate with Steam friends while hiding from the general public, and that it will also specifically let players hide both game ownership and gameplay time counts from friends. The company explained that Tuesday's changes came "directly from user feedback," which Steam Spy founder Sergey Galyonkin questioned via his site's Twitter feed: "They said it was by users feedback which makes me as a person born in the Soviet Union very suspicious :)"

    It's utterly counterintuitive to think that Steam users would not want a complete inventory of what they owned and how much they played it available to all of their friends (nothing like advertising to your CS:GO friends that you've played Hentai Strip Poker 3 for 120 hours).

    And surely everyone wants the entire Steam community to know that they're online playing Steam games.

    "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it."

    • by aevan ( 903814 )
      But how will i live not knowing that a friend has added "A magical highschool girl" on his wishlist

      Honestly I get what Steam is going for: i've looked up plenty of games' page, curious what was that game that is sucking up a friend's time. On the other hand, sometimes you just want to quietly have some solo time in a MMO...and not have the twenty people on your contacts login to 'party up'. It's cowardly in a way, to avoid simply saying 'no'...but at the same time, the issue need not arise in the first p
    • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

      I turned on the privacy setting as soon as I figured out that publisher PR stooges were playing fan bois and attacking people with their history for negative reviews or comments. It was getting pretty annoying back they backed off when they could not force positive reviews and comments and people where often ragging on games more as a result of the negative interactions with publisher trolls, than the game itself. Gamers are becoming a lot more forward critiquing game developers and publishers, especially w

    • > (nothing like advertising to your CS:GO friends that you've played Hentai Strip Poker 3 for 120 hours).

      Exactly. In fact I expect that being able to (finally) go invisible on Steam will undoubtedly lead to more sales of games to people who for various social reasons didn't want to have the ownership and playing of those games broadcast to their friends. Reminds me of a story that was posted to another forum of odd game store encounters where one guy recounted working the till when a bunch of gang bang

  • by sabbede ( 2678435 ) on Wednesday April 11, 2018 @07:50AM (#56417161)
    How many thousands of hours I have in games like Fallout 4 without getting "you beat the game!" achievements?
    • by Anonymous Coward

      You can still show this as you like - if you re-enable your public profile. Steam is choosing Opt-in as opposed to Opt-out privacy.

    • by aliquis ( 678370 )

      We need this on dating sites.

      Hide my age and (lack of) achivements.

  • it will also specifically let players hide both game ownership and gameplay time counts from friends

    I can finally purchase Secret of the Magic Crystals [steampowered.com] and breed new ponies to my heart's content without everyone giving me a hard time about trying to breed a unicorn!

  • by Escogido ( 884359 ) on Wednesday April 11, 2018 @09:37AM (#56417551)

    (I work in game industry, completely unrelated to Valve.) reading the comments so far, it seems there's quite a lot of misunderstanding or misinterpretation what happened here. spoiler alert: it's about user privacy, but not exactly the sharing-with-others-for-commercial-purposes kind.

    SteamSpy is a valuable resource to learn what the real popularity of a game is like, because it draws on (previously) open Steam APIs to estimate how many people do actually own the game, and how much it is being played. it is valuable because it allows one to get a good estimation on existing market size of a particular game genre segment. now, there are two parties who don't like this kind of transparency.

    first, there are publishers who would very much love to hide lackluster performance of these titles, and keep the hype that "everyone is playing this HOT!! new title" in media through paid articles and ads. naturally SteamSpy breaks this kind of false narrative.

    second, as a few folks correctly mentioned here, Steam's profile/friend system makes too many things public by default, and users ARE unhappy about it - since there is still a lot of stigma around playing computer games, and also sometimes you simply don't want to broadcast the fact that you're playing something to the world, or just want to be left alone. Steam friends feature is rather dated, as it was built with sharing and playing games together with your friends in mind, mostly for teenagers in 00s, so it offers relatively few ways to regulate what you want to make public and what you do not. in part, the information that you made available publicly is also available via Steam APIs, which allowed services such as SteamSpy to exist, although that wasn't really its original purpose.

    so Steam is actually doing a good thing for its users by tightening up privacy controls, and restricting ways to access someone's status both inside the system and in the APIs. incidentally, this kills services such as SteamSpy, and also inadvertently helps game publishers to hide real numbers related to their titles' performance. oh well.

    • by sinij ( 911942 )
      I think you grossly understating your second point. It isn't solely about stigma of playing games or even playing specific game. It is about producing more data that could be aggregated to create very precise profiles. As Cambridge Analytica showed us, you can scrape a lot of data from multiple sources and then produce a devastatingly effective spear-phising like manipulation. This is what highly undesirable outcome of leaking everyone's data.

      Additionally, post gamergate every gamer should be cautious abou
      • you have a good point. whether or not that consideration went into Valve's decision making with regards to Steam, we don't really know, but it certainly helps in this regard. me, personally I'm more lamenting the loss of a valuable red-pill source of market size info :) well at least vgchartz is still there.

    • Nice sum up. As a developer, I couldn't care less about individuals and what or how much they're playing. Information about how titles are doing in a general sense is very useful and motivating. Unfortunately, it appears I can't have one without the other.

    • by phorm ( 591458 )

      It probably wouldn't be too hard to get the best of both worlds though. Allow users to authenticate with third-parties against Steam's OpenAPI equivalent to allow access to *their* data, while allowing anonymous data extracts to more global variables (e.g. how many discrete users are playing this game, age range, country, CPU/GPU etc) for unauthenticated services.

      In the end, Steam is making money off of game (ok, and hat) sales, so they don't need to monetize your data in the same way that FB etc are, but t

      • well if Valve provided this information for everyone for free, that's where the first interested party might kick in. perhaps Valve doesn't want any negative consequences in relationship with game publishers, and perhaps street cred gained from doing something to "the industry at large" is not enough for them as a compensation.

        in theory, Valve could be selling this kind of service. I don't know if they do, but if that is the case, they certainly have good reasons to shut down a free service that would give

  • Oh good, now my wife won't see how much time I have spent playing Hatoful Boyfriend [steampowered.com].

I was playing poker the other night... with Tarot cards. I got a full house and 4 people died. -- Steven Wright

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