Fans Find Hidden Tracking Software in The Elder Scrolls Online (UPDATED)

Have you ever heard of Red Shell? Neither have we, up until some eagle-eyed fans of The Elder Scrolls Online noticed that there appears to be some ESO tracking software installed into the game’s core files. And while the program itself claims that personal information is not logged, some fans are incensed at the unannounced addition.

eso tracking software

Red Shell describes itself on its website as a service that lets “Steam games uncover where their players come from through reliable attribution.” It tracks a digital fingerprint a person leaves when clicking on a custom link in a way that sounds not too dissimilar to analytics tracking services like Bitly, then logs when a game’s launcher is fired up by that same person and collects attribution.

The Red Shell website does go out of its way to expressly state in an FAQ that data collected does not include personal information such as addresses, names or emails. “Our service basically says ‘this computer clicked on a link from this YouTube video and the same computer played your game’,” explains the FAQ. “We have no interest in tracking people.”

Furthermore, ESO’s own privacy policy expressly states that the game collects information such as stats, communications, device information and other pieces of data. “We (and our third-party providers) may record log files and use cookies, pixel tags, local shared objects, java script, and other mechanisms to collect this information about you,” explains part of the policy.

That said, one particular fan equates the secret addition of Red Shell to spying and has posted some options for players to block or opt-out of the tracking service if they so wish. Said fan has even pointed out Europe’s recent GDPR policies and assumed that the addition of Red Shell in ESO violates those new requirements.

UPDATE – JUNE 1 3:24PM EST: Producer Matt Firor has since responded to the discovered file, stating that Red Shell was still being evaluated and was never meant to go into the Update 18 live client. The full post is below:

“My apologies for the confusion over the integration of Red Shell into ESO. Here’s what happened: we have been experimenting with a better way to link which advertisements and web content new players see to the eventual account that is created in the game. The ONLY purpose this would be used for is to determine from which origin points our new players come from, so we can better plan where to place advertisements and other web content. Existing accounts will never encounter this, as they are already created.

Several factors came together in Update 18 and Red Shell was erroneously added to the live build when we were still testing and evaluating it. It has never been active in ESO, even though the base tech is in the client – i.e. it was never enabled. So, we will remove it from Update 18, which will take place in the PC/Mac incremental build scheduled for this coming Monday (it was never considered for Console, so won’t be in Tuesday’s U18 launch). We never should have done this without giving everyone a heads up it was coming, and we will learn from this mistake.

That being said, we are still investigating how to use this technology in the future to grow and sustain ESO more effectively. When/if we do so, we will give everyone a heads up with clear instructions as to what it is doing, how it is doing it, and how to opt-out should you so desire.

Check out the patch notes on Monday for the notice that Red Shell has been removed from U18, and we will keep everyone posted – and again, my apologies.”

Our Thoughts

So yeah, on the one hand, the legalese of the privacy policy pretty much means that ZOS and ESO are in the clear, near as we can figure. On the other hand – and certainly more importantly – communication of this sort of tracking would go a pretty long way to building goodwill. The fact that this fingerprint logger was added without being expressly lined out in the patch notes, especially in a post-GDPR world, definitely feels a bit uncomfortable. At least, then, it has been addressed and will be on its way out the door.

Sources: ESO forums, ESO privacy policy, Red Shell website

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About Chris Hughes

Chris is a literal wolf who has managed to learn how to use a computer. He enjoys cooking, roleplaying, writing, and reading those who do the same. You can find him staring at Twitter or read more of his attempt at humor at his blog, or in-game primarily on WildStar, Blade and Soul or Final Fantasy XIV.