The internet used to be a fairly private place, for the most part. Sure, things were sharable, but it was a close-knit community of people doing the sharing. The technology at the time was not ready for the Facebooks and Flickrs and everything else the world has dreamed up while we punched our keys and killed internet dragons. Now, the internet is a public sphere where nothing is private and the allure of privacy is a battle we fight every day against those who would sell our personal data or snoop into our lives.
Oversharing on the internet
The concept of oversharing has been around for a long time, but the true meaning of technological overshare has finally come home to roost in these days of permanent sharability. We have acquiesced to the share-me-share-you mindset, and it's here to stay. In the legal world, information is everything, because decisions are made on facts and facts alone. The clever legal scholars and lawyers in the bunch make the facts fit or not fit those rules.
One particular segment of the law has been changed completely because of the mass amount of overshared information that is being thrown around all over the internet -- divorce attorneys and divorce proceedings. In fact, there's now an overabundance of evidence in divorce cases, from pictures, status updates, YouTube videos and everything in between. Are people getting more comfortable with their indiscretions, or have people always been this bad with their affairs and we just never noticed?
So attorneys are using the internet. Big shocker. Most of this probably has little effect on those of us who try to keep ultra-personal information to ourselves and off the internet. Sure, you know that I hate Tol Barad (when I'm losing) and alternatively love it (when I'm winning), but that gives little bearing on my personal life other than the acceptable fact that I do, on occasion, play World of Warcraft.
I've been thinking about the armory feeds for a long time. The idea of Real ID haunted me, when my name was going to be attached to my characters on forum posts back when that was a thing, and it felt like it hurt my fight against my own personal overshare. I didn't hate the concepts of Real ID and now use it frequently to keep track of my friends, but I hated that outside of the game there was a way to see who my characters were.
The armory feeds on Blizzard's official community site make available a comprehensive list of items obtained, achievements earned, and notable events in your character's life, all with (albeit vague) time stamps. While this is an awesome tool that I use all of the time and absolutely adore the presentation of, it scares me in the most hypothetical way possible.
We shouldn't get rid of the feeds or anything like that, but I was trained to always see the hypotheticals, and that's what I want to share with you today. If we don't think about the worst case, we'll be damned surprised when it comes to fruition.
Currently, the armory feeds show the 50 most recent notable activities of the character. The number is not what is of concern, but rather, the information and time stamps. Sure, looking at just one snippet of 50 different achievements at any given time will not give a clear picture of one's playstyle, but we're talking about evidence collection, not just snapping a picture of the most recent. Over time, the information can be compiled.
So, here are my two hypotheticals. The first is that issue that so many people have dealt with because of the advent of the MMO. I've known people whose relationships have deteriorated and destroyed themselves over MMOs such as World of Warcraft and computer gaming in general. It's sad and it's painful to hear, and you could replace computer gaming or raiding with anything else and you would have the same problem.
Here's a question to those of you out there with significant others who do not play World of Warcraft -- does your partner know your character's names? How about what server you play on? If you're ever accused of spending too much time playing the game you love (and hopefully because of it, you're never in front of a judge dividing up your property), they might have a list of all the time you play.
Divorce attorneys use Facebook feeds, pictures, and status updates to gauge people's careless outbursts against their court appearances. It's true and it's scary. Is the armory feed any different? How does the judge even know that your character is who they say you are? Will a Ventrilo deposition with your raid leader be admissible evidence? I swear, your honor, that my time is not all spent here. Ask my 10-man -- I totally went to grab lunch yesterday. (The best judges use Mumble, anyway.)
My second hypothetical is not meant to scare but to discuss a potentially sensitive topic. Facebook outbursts, feeds, and pictures have been and will continue to be used by family courts and family attorneys to test what is best for a child in custody battles. What happens when a now-vindictive parent decides to use the armory feed data as evidence that the other parent spends more time with a game than his children? Do you think that most courts and judges will give a fair-minded approach to understanding the intricacies of your raiding schedule as opposed to the amount of time and dedication needed, in their eyes, to care for a child? It's a complete toss-up -- every judge is different. It has already happened with Facebook games and has the potential to happen here.
The road ahead
You'll see all of this in the future. It's probably happening, but no one is outright talking about it. Lawyers can't, mostly, considering the privileges involved. You'll hear hypotheticals, though -- hypotheticals that feel wrong and ludicrous but have a nagging sense of truth to them. Divorce proceedings are happening all over the world right now, and in some of them, a husband or wife is having to explain his or her hobbies and activities, which may or may not include World of Warcraft. Hell, imagine trying to explain the crazy amount of time people play Farmville to a judge. The fact is that the overshare is here to stay, and it now falls on us to figure out what to do with information that is free-flowing, always available, and potentially dangerous.
Because, really, the last thing I want coming up during my divorce proceedings is how I didn't let my hypothetical wife roll need on her bracers and took them for myself. You see here, your honor, it was a bigger upgrade for me.
She's just jealous.
This column is for entertainment only; if you need legal advice, contact a lawyer. For comments or general questions about law or for The Lawbringer, contact Mat at firstname.lastname@example.org.