According to a lengthy report co-published by Pro Publica and the New York Times, American and British spy agencies have infiltrated World of Warcraft and Second Life, conducting surveillance and collecting data in the games played by millions of people around the globe, according to newly disclosed classified documents. Agents supposedly created characters to snoop and to try to recruit informers, and collected data and contents of communications between players, according to the documents disclosed by former National Security Agency contractor Edward J. Snowden.
The documents do not show any counter-terrorism successes from the effort, and former "American intelligence officials, current and former gaming company employees and outside experts said in interviews that they knew of little evidence that terrorist groups viewed the games as havens to communicate and plot operations," according to Pro Publica. The spy agencies have also been looking into Xbox Live activity, though the details on that are pretty thin.
Blizzard tells the New York Times and Pro Publica that, if spy agencies are tracking players and collecting data in World of Warcraft, they are doing it without permission or the company's knowledge.
"We are unaware of any surveillance taking place," said a spokesman for Blizzard Entertainment, based in Irvine, Calif., which makes World of Warcraft. "If it was, it would have been done without our knowledge or permission."
A spokeswoman for Microsoft declined to comment. Philip Rosedale, the founder of Second Life and a former chief executive officer of Linden Lab, declined to comment on the spying revelations. Current Linden executives did not respond to requests for comment.
Peter W. Singer of the Brookings Institution and author of "Cybersecurity and Cyberwar: What Everyone Needs to Know," thinks the effort is a waste of time because there are more efficient ways than games to communicate and plan online.
"[Games] "are built and operated by companies looking to make money, so the players’ identity and activity is tracked," he said "For terror groups looking to keep their communications secret, there are far more effective and easier ways to do so than putting on a troll avatar."
Pro Publica has an extensive report on the subject here. The report comes as no surprise to anyone already concerned about Microsoft's role in the NSA's snooping of other services like Skype and Outlook.