Did you know that Blizzard is marking every screenshot taken through World of Warcraft with a watermark that identifies the server IP, account ID, and time/date the screenshot was taken? It’s true, and there is a very good reason behind it.
Blizzard has been combating piracy and private servers for a while, and often accomplishments and other information spread through the Web by way of screenshots can actually be the result of TOS violating activities. By leaving an almost-invisible watermark on images taken through the WoW client, Blizzard is able to identify and block the offender.
Private servers are illegal. They’re a violation of Blizzard’s terms of service and a form of piracy that can be pursued by Blizzard. Some of the outrage being expressed online regarding this recent discovery appears to be under the assumption that the information being displayed in this watermark is in some way a violation of the user’s privacy.
Here is the information made available by the watermark:
- Account ID/Name
- Realm Date/Time the Screenshot Was Taken
- IP of the Server
- Information About the Realm
This information is all covered under the Blizzard terms of service. If everything the user is doing is on the up and up, it may (at best) give away the account ID and date/time the screenshot was taken. After all, who really cares if the world knows what realm someone plays in as long as the character name isn’t given out freely? I’ll tell you who: people who run private servers.
B. WHEN THE GAME IS RUNNING, BLIZZARD MAY OBTAIN CERTAIN IDENTIFICATION INFORMATION ABOUT YOUR COMPUTER, INCLUDING WITHOUT LIMITATION YOUR HARD DRIVES, CENTRAL PROCESSING UNIT, IP ADDRESS(ES) AND OPERATING SYSTEM(S), FOR PURPOSES OF IMPROVING THE GAME AND/OR THE SERVICE, AND TO POLICE AND ENFORCE THE PROVISIONS OF ANY BLIZZARD AGREEMENT.
Sure, this paragraph doesn’t exactly outline a plot to do so by way of your screenshots, but there’s a perfectly good reason Blizzard would have decided to take this step.
Consider this: Folks who head to game forums and post screenshots of themselves “fighting the system” by subverting or otherwise hacking the game are common. Exploits discovered by some players can show up on these forums and the name of the character is often blacked out along the way. What is Blizzard to do in these cases to protect its game from those that would exploit it and throw off the natural order and balance? A watermark is just about the only thing it can do in this case.
Here’s some information not currently believed to be included in the watermark:
- User IP Address
- User Real Name
- User Shoe Size
- User Bank Account Information
- User Age/Sex/Location
If you’re worried about someone on the outside using information from your screenshots against you, don’t worry too much. The watermarks really aren’t very easy to find or translate. Only watermarks that have been taken in areas with little/no texture noise are yet legible to the general public (this may change). The information stored in this data feed is also fairly unimportant to anyone but Blizzard, unless you don’t want someone to have your Account ID. If that’s the case, here are some steps you can take.
- Don’t take screenshots with the game client. Use a third-party screenshot program (like FRAPS or Greenshot).
- Resize your images (shrink) by 50% prior to uploading them. This will crunch down the watermark and keep it pretty illegible.