EA backtracks (slightly) over disturbing data-mining Origin user agreement

We’ve been grudgingly getting used to the idea of being forced to play EA’s PC games through its Origin download service, but things just took a turn for the invasive. Like 'constantly-watching-from-just-outside-the-window' invasive. A frankly terrifyingly worded End User License Agreement for Origin states that, in theory, EA can swim through all of your hard drive contents, like a data mining mermaid. Although not quite in those words.

Above: EA's Origin store is like Steam - and is becoming the only way you can play new EA games on PC

After outcry on internet forums, EA swiftly amended the EULA on its website slightly to assure customers that all the information gathered will be “non-personally identifiable”. However, when we tried to run a fresh install of the service on our laptop, we got the old EULA in the program, which left us very confused.

Even with the possibly amended contract, a close look at the information the company can legally gather would still include IP addresses, which could theoretically identify users. Either way, look at the kind of data it can still legally collect from your computer if you agree to install a game:

The new EULA reads: "The non-personally identifiable information that EA collects includes technical and related information that identifies your computer (including the Internet Protocol Address) and operating system, as well as information about your Application usage (including but not limited to successful installation and/or removal), software, software usage and peripheral hardware."

So that's the games you play, the applications you use… even what kind of keyboard and mouse you use. Furthermore, they will still have the ability to provide all this information to marketing partners, without providing a conventional opt-out option. If you don’t like it, EA politely request that you don’t install its software. Because privacy rights are nothing compared to a tailored advert.

Above: Either you agree to have your privacy invaded, or you can't play Origin games

In comparison to Steam's EULA, which can gather data on any product related to Steam, EA's is worded in a way that still suggests that it can collect data from anything it deems "related" to its service. While it may be unlikely EA has an abnormal interest in anything not related to its games, the fact remains that if you agree and install the service, you’ll have no leg to stand on if EA decide to see what treasures lie on your hard drive.

This leads to a remarkably troubling question - which should never be asked - for PC gamers. Do you assume that EA is going to play above board and have just worded this poorly (despite its formidable team of lawyers scrutinising every last character to ensure it's watertight) or do you miss out on games like Mass Effect 3, Battlefield 3 and any other EA exclusive in the upcoming future?

EA’s PR rehabilitation had practically seemed complete in the past few years, but if this is a sign of things to come from the publishing behemoth, they could undo all that good work rather quickly.

25 Aug, 2011

Sources: Rock, Paper, Shotgun, EULA for Origin, The Escapist

Written by Ben Tyrer, with us on work experience from Bournememouth University, UK.

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