Tuesday, January 12, 2016

User Banned on Epic Game Beta for Name on "Terror" Watch List

If you have traveled by plane at all over the past 10 years, then you are most likely fully aware of the wonderful "No Fly" list that is suppose to weed out potential terrorists and other bad guys from access to a plane as a passenger. For nefarious reasons, of course. But it has become a farce turned headache over the years as a number of people are added to the list for reasons unknown to them. Even having a similar sounding name to someone who is legitimately on the list can bar people from flying. An 18-month old as pulled from a flight, along with her mother, for being on the list. As well as famous people and senators getting constantly interrogated during security check.

It's a fun system we have, with the intent to keep us safe. So it should be no surprise that we see this happening in video games as well.

A man named Muhammad Zakir Khan wanted to sign up for Epic Games new MOBA-inspired title Paragon. The screen shot looks nifty and not MOBA-ish. But when he tried to register his name, he was greeted with a message that his account would be blocked as his name matched on the "Specially Designated Nationals" list.

I can honestly say, as someone who tries to keep up with political news and staying involved in the government and their updates, I have no flipping clue on what the "Specially Designated Nationals" list is. After a quick Google search, you'll find that it's a list housed by the Treasury Department that can mark individuals or groups as potential terror threats for having business ties to suspects. It can bar access to any U.S. assets. That's really crappy when you think about it. If the Treasury Department wrongly lists you and businesses act on it, you can be locked out of your life.

Which is what happened to Khan, albeit on a smaller scale since it was limited to a video game beta signup.

Epic Games responded via co-founder Tim Sweeney and they were able to fix the issue quickly. But it raises the question on why Epic is using the list in the first place to weed out potential bad guys? It's a video game. So...why?

I've dabbled on the subject recently that terrorists are most likely not using video games as a means of communication. And we shouldn't be surprised that gaming companies are tracking us. They know our habits, purchase history (why else would they keep making Call of Duty every year), and who we're talking to. We would be naive to think otherwise. But this mysterious list has some of us wondering if gaming companies are taking that data and sharing it with the government.

And now I'm starting to sound like one of those super Conservative, Big Brother, fear-mongering websites. Ugh.

Look. I understand that having some government oversight is needed. As humans we can not function on our own without an authority figure. We'd have blown up this planet centuries ago with the chaos our sad little minds can create. And I understand that these lists are extra security checks are intended for our protection. Every little bit helps, right? So we play our part and spend more time in the security line at the airport, and have to have our drivers licenses scrutinized at every gas station when we stop to pick up a Diet Coke. I get it.

But what the heck would game companies be feeding to the U.S. government about our gaming habits? I think this is a case where we need more transparency. I'm fairly studious about those user agreements and don't remember seeing a mention on user data being transmitted to the government or any legal institutions, unless its a situation deemed necessary (i.e. you committed a crime and police need info to find you). Epic. Game companies everywhere. What are you feeding to the government and why?


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