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Surprise! Some PC games have ad-tracking software installed

Developers insist Red Shell isn't spyware, but some are removing it anyway.
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A smattering of PC games are tracking where you go and what you do on the internet when you aren't playing. Reddit sleuths have discovered that games including Civilization VI, Elder Scrolls Online, Kerbal Space Program (above), Hunt: Showdown and Warhammer: Vermentide II included a tracker called Red Shell.

Essentially, it's software that, if installed, discerns whether you were exposed to the marketing campaign for the game you're playing, and if said campaign led to you purchasing the game. Apparently it's super effective, with Red Shell boasting a 98-percent plus accuracy rating.

In a FAQ section of Red Shell's website (written to developers), it says the following: "All data we collect is YOURs. We ONLY use it for attribution. We do not aggregate, distribute or sell ANY data." Under another query it says: "We do not collect any 'personal information' about your players. We only collect and store information about their browsers/computers for purposes of attribution."

It's tracking your digital fingerprint -- the same thing Apple is fighting against (others are as well) with an update to its Safari web browser.

In fact, when you go to the RedShell pricing page (again, written as a sales pitch to game developers), you're offered the option to opt in to let your data be used for analytics, live support and marketing. You can decline all of these, but not "necessary cookies" that "enable core functionality." It says the website cannot function properly without these cookies, and can only be disabled by changing your browser preferences.

As you can imagine, the Reddit thread that discovered the software isn't keen on the company's practices or explanations, mostly because this isn't an opt-in measure. That's despite the tracker being pretty low on the list of nefarious software.

Many developers with titles on the list have announced they're removing Red Shell from their games, in addition to saying that Red Shell wasn't spyware, but advertising analytics software. All told, Reddit discovered there were over 50 games with Red Shell installed.

In a statement to Kotaku, Red Shell said that it collects the "minimum amount of data necessary to do attribution."

"Our customers rely on us to tell them which activities they're engaged in [different ad campaigns] are working and which ones aren't," Adam Lieb said. "Any information that doesn't help us make those matches we don't collect."

Here's the thing: practically every website you visit places a tracker on your device to "fingerprint" you. It's why if you're searching for a new couch on Amazon, every website you visit for the week after will deliver you ads for couches on Amazon. The Reddit thread has an explanation of how to stop tracking for your entire personal network if you're so inclined.

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