Every Monday, Scott Andrews contributes Officers' Quarters, a column about the ins and outs of guild leadership. He is the author of The Guild Leader's Handbook.
Privacy and information security has never been a more relevant topic than right now. With the revelation that the U.S. and British governments have been engaged in unprecedented worldwide surveillance of our Internet communications and phone calls, the threat to our privacy is very real.
As an officer, you are on both sides of such situations. It's up to you what information to collect about your members and about other guilds. It's also up to you what to keep to yourself, what to share with your guildmates, and what to share with the world. Let's look at some of the privacy issues that officers must face.
The world and your logs
Combat logs are a valuable tool. You can tell a great deal about a player or a guild's strengths and weaknesses from their combat logs. Many raiding guilds require a link to an applicant's logs before they'll invite them to the roster.
When other guilds make their logs public, go ahead and look. If you're struggling on a boss, study what other guilds are doing to beat the encounter. Look at their composition, their average DPS, the spells their healers use most frequently, etc. It's fair game, and if guilds leave their logs public, you can assume they don't mind people poring through their data.
Keep in mind, however, that all logs on World of Logs are set to public by default, which means anyone can look at them, including the rival guilds on your realm. You can keep them private if you want to, but you have to set them to be private.
If your raid team is struggling, uploading public logs may not always be in your best interest. After all, you might ask recruits for their logs, but they might look at yours before they even decide whether to apply.
Log visibility helps the community, so I encourage guilds to keep their logs public. However, no one will blame you if you don't want to show the world what you've been up to in your raids.
You're not the NSA
Applications are important for building the best possible roster no matter what your guild's goals are, from raiding to RP to PvP. Finding out about a player before inviting them helps you to keep out the troublemakers and needy players that will drag down the guild experience for everyone.
It's easy to go overboard on questions. Asking about age is relevant. Beyond that, you don't need to know where someone lives, what they do for a living, or what their kids' names are to figure out whether they belong in your guild. You're not screening NSA employees, after all, just guildmates.
It's best to focus more on their gaming and guild experiences and less on their personal lives. I like to keep personal application questions open-ended. The best one, in my opinion, is one of the simplest: "Tell us something interesting about yourself."
They won't reveal anything they don't want you to know, but their response will still tell you a great deal about them as people. Best of all, they won't feel coerced into giving up private information just to get an invite.
The no-win IP trace
If you use a Vent server, it's possible to obtain a player's IP address from the software. You can then trace that address using any of several different methods to reveal what location they're logging in from. But should you?
In most cases, a trace does more harm than good. If a raider says they can't attend because they're in a hotel room with crappy wifi, a quick IP trace might reveal that they're actually right at home. Do you really want to know this, however? It merely confirms what you already suspected. Plus, calling the player on it is likely to drive them out of the guild, whether due to outrage or embarrassment. The white lie that they're traveling is a way for them to take a night off without giving you the real reason, which they obviously considered too private to share. By tracking them down, you're not doing them or yourself any favors.
Sure, we'd all prefer that such a person be honest about their reasons, but prying into their affairs is worse. A better approach is to ask them to be honest with you rather than snooping.
If some anonymous user is disrupting your Vent, you can track their IP to figure out where they're from. That may reveal who it could be, such as a disgruntled ex-member -- if you know where they live. However, it's easier to ban their IP from the server and move on with your life.
Tactics like IP tracing might also raise real worry among your current members. If you're willing to do that, they might wonder what you would do to them if they cross you. Not to mention, the methods you use can put you in murky legal territory, depending on the laws of your country.
Drama happens. We do our best to contain it, but sometimes it just gets away from us. In these cases, the most effective way to mitigate the damage is to keep it as private as possible. Move conversations from guild chat to whispers, a private channel, or an invite-only Vent channel. Discuss the problems with the officers in /o or in your officer-only forums.
You can't -- and shouldn't -- order players not to discuss details, but you can ask them not to.
The only time you owe your guildmates full disclosure is if the drama involves corruption within the leadership. For example, say an officer has been embezzling from the guild bank. Or they've been favoring friends with raid invites in express violation of guild policy. In these cases, you really need to disclose everything to your guild members. Otherwise, rumors will spread and no one will trust your officers again.
In the case of personal drama between players, on the other hand, the less that is said in public the better. If a player asks you about it, the best response is simply to tell them, "The officers are handling it."
If you have to discuss drama with the guild as a whole, make sure it's in a place where no one from outside the guild can overhear you or, worse, copy and paste from a website and preserve the dysfunction for all time.
In the course of months and years in a leadership position, you may find guild members telling you very strange things about themselves. Some of it can be highly personal, shocking, or bizarre. Some of it may even be criminal in nature.
The best policy in these situations is similar to that of a psychiatrist: tell no one what you've heard unless you have a strong feeling that the person is about to hurt someone or themselves.
Short of that, zip it. Gossip is an ugly habit for a person in a position of trust.
Officers' Quarters keeps your guild leadership on track to cope with sticky situations such as members turned poachers or the return of an ex-guild leader and looking forward to what guilds need in Mists of Pandaria. Send your own guild-related questions and suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.