Tech

Rift widens between Epic and gamers over data mining allegations

Epic Games is being torn a new one by gamers again. This time, it’s been accused of mining users’ Steam data without their permission. As you’d expect, Epic’s critics are taking it as fresh grist in the ongoing controversy over Epic’s storefront — which might turn off developers who want to bring their games there in future.

The concern appears to have originated in a Reddit thread. In short, the thread creator claimed the Epic launcher was running processes and attempting to access root certificates and DLLs without permission. They also said the data it found went back to Epic, and the company’s store app stored hardware information in its registry. PC Gamer later confirmed the launcher “poked around” in Steam files.

Gamers were furious, and a response from Dan Vogel, Epic’s VP of engineering, appeared to only stir the pot further. He said that the app makes an encrypted local copy of your Steam friend info, which is sent to Epic if you choose to import your friends list. Users responded, asking why Epic was scraping local data without permission in the first place. Tim Sweeney, Epic’s CEO, jumped in to admit that it was very objectionable and “a remnant left over from our rush to implement social features in the early days of Fortnite.” He said the engineers would stop the app from doing it, but that appeared to be too little, too late.

If you want to read the Reddit threads on the topic, on your head be it. Seriously, it’s a giant mess in there.

Of course, none of these concerns are happening in a vacuum. It’s very much tied up in general wariness among PC gamers about the store itself and how it’s disrupting the primarily gamer-friendly market that’s existed up to this point. They’ve accused the developers who release their games there exclusively of caring more about its attractive profit split, rather than their consumers.

Gamers have also pointed out that, even were they to commend the spirit of competition the store claims to represent, it lacks several of the practical elements Steam has — cloud saves, for example. So, even if we give Epic the benefit of the doubt that this wasn’t intended to be a massive invasion of privacy, it reinforces the critics’ belief that the Epic Store just isn’t ready for prime time yet.

This isn’t even getting into concern that Tencent, the Chinese company that owns a 40 percent stake in Epic, might have access to the data in question. Users on Reddit are already whipping each other into a froth over Tencent‘s investment in the platform, which they say has led to a rise in Chinese propaganda and they fear could eventually lead to censorship. Gamers‘ fears as far as Epic’s alleged data mining go run on much the same lines. Sweeney tried to quiet those fears by telling users in the original Reddit thread, “Epic does not share any customer data or personal data with Tencent ever,” but it’s doubtful his words convinced everyone.

While this is just the latest in the ongoing struggle between gamers and Epic, it’s a good look at just how deep the distrust runs on the consumer side. The store itself will no doubt stay around, but in the face of such unyielding criticism and dislike from gamers, it remains to be seen how many game developers will find the attractive revenue split worth the cost.

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