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Are players getting screwed? The privacy policy and terms of service of PC game platform Steam


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A critical look at the terms of service of Steam.

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Are players getting screwed? The privacy policy and terms of service of PC game platform Steam

  1. 1. Are players getting screwed? The privacy policy and terms of service of PC game platform Steam.
  2. 2. Most of us don’t read the privacy policies and terms of service of the online platforms we use for good reason. Image: (Aguado, 2011)
  3. 3. It’s estimated it would take you 244 hours to read the privacy policies for all the websites you visit in a year (McDonald & Cranor, 2008, p. 563). They’re time consuming. Image: (Wickramanayaka, 2014)
  4. 4. Research has found that even experts in law struggle to interpret privacy policies (Reidenberg et al., 2015). And they’re confusing. Image: (CollegeDegrees360, 2012)
  5. 5. Still, they’re worth our attention as these policies often diminish the rights of users.
  6. 6. To illustrate, let’s explore the policies of the popular online service Steam. We’ll look at how these policies effect ownership and privacy, and the unfairness of Steam’s dispute resolution clauses. Image: (Kit, 2007)
  7. 7. But first …
  8. 8. Steam?
  9. 9. Steam is an online PC gaming and social network platform owned by the software company Valve. Image: Screenshot, 2016 It has over 125 million users worldwide (Saed, 2015).
  10. 10. Steam has faced its share of controversy.
  11. 11. Multiple hacks have exposed the personal information of its users (Good, 2011; Grill, 2015). Image: (The Preiser Project, 2014)
  12. 12. And recently Valve was sued by a consumer group alleging Steam’s policies violated the rights of consumers (Nutt, 2015). Image: (Gratz, 2006)
  13. 13. Image: Screenshot, 2016 On Steam you can: • Access, play and review games • Share your videos and artwork • Create and share game content • Join discussion boards and chat in-game

  14. 14. To create a Steam account you must agree to Steam’s Subscriber Agreement 
 & Privacy Policy.
  15. 15. Steam & Ownership
  16. 16. You may think you buy games on Steam, but that’s not entirely accurate. What you buy are subscriptions to games (Valve, 2016).
  17. 17. If you or Valve cancel your account, these subscriptions end without refund and you are no longer allowed to play your games (Valve, 2016).
  18. 18. Valve can cancel your account if you break the terms of the Subscriber Agreement or Steam’s rules of conduct, which Valve can change whenever they want (Valve, 2016). Image: (Indruch, 2009)
  19. 19. While it’s likely digital content providers set these restrictions to protect against piracy (Wong, 2013, p. 733) …
  20. 20. … they effectively hold valuable content to ransom, pressuring us to continue using their services and accepting the terms they set. Image: (James, 2013)
  21. 21. We do own some content on Steam. The content we create and make public on social media, such as reviews, videos and artworks, are our intellectual property. Image: Screenshot, 2016
  22. 22. The agreement grants Valve many of the powers of a copyright owner over our content, such as being free to modify it and create derivative works that solely belong to them (Valve, 2016). Image: (Paz, 2010)
  23. 23. Tech companies and users are co-creators of social media sites (Schumann, von Wangenheim, & Groene, 2014, p. 66) … If users didn’t add content to Steam’s community section, who would visit it? Image: (Berge, 2010)
  24. 24. … yet we seem to come out second-best in the relationship.
  25. 25. When we agree to Steam’s terms we lose control over content we own and Gain no property rights over the content we spend money on.
  26. 26. Steam & Privacy
  27. 27. Valve collects from Steam users Anonymous Data & Personally Identifiable Information.
  28. 28. Anonymous data supposedly can’t identify you. It can include your browsing history, purchase history, gender and postal code. Image: (überBusy, 2006)
  29. 29. Valve can share this data with anyone (Valve, 2015) because it isn’t considered a threat to privacy …
  30. 30. … even though there are methods that exist that can link this data back to individuals (Marwick & boyd, 2014, p. 1053; Narayanan & Shmatikov, 2010, p. 25).
  31. 31. It collects this data in order to study consumer habits (Valve, 2015). Many companies do this so they can personalise their services and create targeted advertising (Brown & Muchira, 2004). Image: (Vance, 2007) Valve does not specify or give us options over what anonymous data is collected from us.
  32. 32. Basically, we’re being profiled in ways we can’t see or control based on online behaviour that may not reflect who we are (van Wel & Royakkers, 2004, p. 133). Image: (Lund, 2007)
  33. 33. Personally identifiable information is information volunteered by users “that can be used to uniquely identify a user such as name, address or credit card number” (Valve, 2015). Image: (Ivanushkin, 2009)
  34. 34. It’s not mentioned how long Valve keeps this information. Image: (Cholet, 2011) You can ask for it to be removed from Valve’s records …
  35. 35. … but the request can be denied for vague various reasons such as if the request is deemed “extremely impractical” (Valve, 2015). Image: (fdecomite, 2012)
  36. 36. Government surveillance requests for customer data from tech companies is on the rise (Schechner, 2016) …
  37. 37. Valve may release our information to authorities “to comply with court orders or laws”(Valve, 2015). It makes no promises to resist such requests or to notify users when they occur.
  38. 38. When we’re vulnerable to scrutiny, it changes the way we act (Introna, 1997, p. 268). Image: (ep_jhu, 2010)
  39. 39. Online surveillance concerns have seen 22% of American internet users change their online behaviour (Rainie & Madden, 2015).
  40. 40. When we use Steam, we compromise our privacy, threatening our ability to define our actions and ourselves.
  41. 41. Dispute Resolution
  42. 42. The subscriber agreement attempts to dictate what legal measures we can take against Valve, such as insisting we forgo the right to a trial in court (Valve, 2016). Image: (brainflakes., 2008)
  43. 43. These terms might not apply in some countries (Valve, 2016). Their inclusion in the agreement makes it unclear what a user’s legal rights are … Image: (Habel, 2007)
  44. 44. … potentially discouraging users from defending themselves with appropriate legal action (Loos & Luzak, 2016, p. 85).
  45. 45. Conclusion
  46. 46. Many of us are happy to exchange our personal information and user content for a great online service (Schumann, von Wangenheim, & Groene, 2014, p. 70). Image: (Magal, 2011) But is it fair that we’re forced to relinquish so much control in these exchanges?
  47. 47. It’s in a company’s economic interest to have control over our data and content but so is maintaining the trust of their customers (Peacock, 2014, p. 7; Dean, Payne, & Landry, 2016, p. 500).
  48. 48. Expressing our concerns to tech companies can help us regain power over our information and content … Image: (kunkelstein, 2007)
  49. 49. … And so can better legislation. In Steam’s policies you’ll notice that European Union users are given greater consideration. This is because the EU has stricter laws governing privacy and consumer rights (Bogdan, 2015; Curtis, 2016). Image: (Allen, 2010)
  50. 50. Online terms of service are “exploitative, unjust, unavoidable” and one-sided (Peacock, 2014, p. 7). But that can change.
  51. 51. Learn more about online privacy and ownership issues: 
 Online Privacy: Using the Internet Safely Electronic Frontier Foundation Me and My Shadow
  52. 52. References Bogdan, M. (2015). The New EU Regulation on Online Resolution for Consumer Disputes. Masaryk University Journal of Law and Technology, 9(1), 155-164. Retrieved from mujlt9&size=2&collection=journals&id=157 Brown, M., & Muchira, R. (2004). Investigating the Relationship between Internet Privacy Concern and Online Purchase Behavior. Journal of Electronic Commerce Research, 591, 62-70. Retrieved from Paper6.pdf Curtis, J. (2016, April 15). Your business must prepare today for 2018 EU data protection laws. IT Pro. Retrieved from http:// Dean, M. D., Payne D. M., & Landry, B. J. L., (2016). Data mining: an ethical baseline for online privacy policies. Journal of Enterprise Information Management, 29(4), 482 – 504. DOI: 10.1108/JEIM-04-2014-0040 Good, O. (2011, November 11). The Steam forums are back online. Kotaku. Retrieved from Grill, S. (2015, December 30). Steam hack affected 34, 000 users, Valve issues statement on Christmas DOS attack. Inquisitr. Retrieved from attack/ Introna, L. D. (1997). Privacy and the computer: why we need privacy in the information society. Metaphilosophy, 28(3), 259-275. DOI: 10.1111/1467-9973.00055 Loos, M., & Luzak, J. (2016). Wanted: A bigger stick. On unfair terms in consumer contracts with online service providers. Journal of Consumer Policy, 39, 63-90. DOI 10.1007/s10603-015-9303-7 Marwick, A. E., & boyd, d. (2014). Networked privacy: How teenagers negotiate context in social media. New Media & Society, 16(7), 1051-1067. Retrieved from McDonald, A. M., & Cranor, L. F. (2008). The cost of reading privacy policies. I/S: A Journal of Law and Policy for the Information Society, 4(3), 543-568. Retrieved from %2Fisjlpsoc&collection=journals Narayanan, A., & Shmatikov, V. (2010). Myths and fallacies of "Personally Identifiable Information". Communications of the ACM, 53(6), 24-26. DOI: 10.1145/1743546.1743558
  53. 53. Nutt, C. (2015, December 17). French consumer group sues Valve over Steam policies. Gamasutra. Retrieved from http:// Peacock, S. E. (2014). How web tracking changes user agency in the age of Big Data: The used user. Big Data & Society, 1(2), 1-11. DOI: 10.1177/2053951714564228 Rainie, L., & Madden, M. (2015, March 16). How people are changing their own behaviour. Pew Research Center. Retrieved from Reidenberg, J. R., Breaux, T., Cranor, L. F., French, B., Grannis, A., Graves, J. T., Liu, F., McDonald, A., Norton, T. B., Ramanath, R. Russell, N. C., Sadeh, N., & Schaub, F. (2015). Disagreeable privacy policies: Mismatches between meaning and users’ understanding. Berkeley Technology Law Journal, 30(1), 39-88. Retrieved from http:// Saed, S. (2015, February 24). Steam has over 125 million active users, 8.9M concurrent peak. VG24/7. Retrieved from http:// Schumann, J. H., von Wangenheim, F., & Groene, N. (2014, January). Targeted online advertising: Using reciprocity appeals to increase acceptance among users of free web services. Journal of Marketing, 78, 59-75. DOI: 10.1509/jm.11.0316 Schechner, S. (2016, January 20). U.S. tech companies bring encryption battle to Davos; Some executives are pushing governments for new system to handle cross-border data requests. Wall Street. Retrieved from http:// Valve. (2015, March 24). Privacy policy agreement. Retrieved from Valve. (2016, January 1). Steam subscriber agreement. Retrieved from van Wel, L., & Royakkers, L. (2004). Ethical issues in web data mining. Ethics and Information Technology, 6, 129-140. DOI: 10.1023/B:ETIN.0000047476.05912.3d Wong, C. (2013). Can Bruce Willis leave his iTunes collection to his children?: Inheritability of digital media in the face of EULAs. Technology Law Journal, 29(4), 703-761. Retrieved from 1400169319?accountid=10382
  54. 54. Images Aguado, A. G. (2011, November 16). New glasses [Digital image]. Retrieved from Berge, C-H. (2010, June 5). Shaking hands [Digital image]. Retrieved from Allen, R. (2010, March 13). Themis [Digital image]. Retrieved from brainflakes.. (2008, July 19). Arms crossed [Digital image]. Retrieved from Cholet, D. (2011, January 20). Calendar* [Digital image]. Retrieved from CollegeDegrees360. (2012, July 12). Confused [Digital image]. Retrieved from ep_jhu. (2010, April 18). Surveillance [Digital image]. Retrieved from fdecomite. (2012, July 27). Signs [Digital image]. Retrieved from Gratz, J. (2006). Courtroom one gavel [Digital image]. Retrieved from Habel, C. (2007, July 8). let the day begin [Digital image]. Retrieved from Indruch, L. (2009, April 4). broken screen [Digital image]. Retrieved from Ivanushkin, E. (2009, July 12). Credit card [Digital image]. Retrieved from James, S. (2013, June 14). chain [Digital image]. Retrieved from Kit. (2007, August 19). The worlds greatest detective [Digital image]. Retrieved from kunkelstein. (2007, November 28). Anger. [Digital image]. Retrieved from Lund, G. (2007, February 11). Mirror [Digital image]. Retrieved from Magal, A. (2011, April 22). Vintage cash register [Digital image]. Retrieved from Paz, J. (2010, February 2). Chocolate cake [Digital image]. Retrieved from
  55. 55. The Preiser Project. (2014, January 23). Hacker [Digital image]. Retrieved from überBusy. (2006, July 13). hiding [Digital image]. Retrieved from Vance, J. (2007, July 1). Target [Digital image]. Retrieved from Wickramanayaka, U. (2014). time [Digital image]. Retrieved from Licenses The following images were used under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic license: Anger., Arms crossed, broken screen, chain, Chocolate cake, hiding, let the day begin, Mirror, New glasses, Surveillance, The worlds greatest detective, Themis, timeTarget, Vintage cash register. The following images were used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license: Confused, Credit card. The following images were used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license: Calendar*, Hacker, Signs. This presentation has been created as part of an assignment for the unit NET303, provided by Curtin University. All media cited in this presentation remains the property and copyright of the respective rights holders. Any copyrighted content has been used legally under Australian Fair Dealing for the purposes of criticism and review. All original content is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International license.