In what can only be described as a stunningly ironic twist of fate, the ESRB has accidentally revealed the email addresses of nearly 1000 people who filed complaints about Blizzard's Real ID system.
We should all know by now about Real ID, Blizzard's plan to bring order to the chaos of its forums by forcing people who post messages to do so using their real names. Backlash against the plan was swift and sure, and Blizzard has since backed off on the idea, but before it did an awful lot of people decided to take their complaints to the Entertainment Software Rating Board, an influential industry body that actually maintains a Privacy Online program.
Like any good, conscientious agency, the ESRB followed up on the matter once Blizzard announced its decision to put the brakes on the fiasco. It wrote an email to everyone who had contacted it regarding Real ID, informing them that the forum policy had been dropped and inviting them to "direct any further inquiries you may have regarding online privacy to our attention." And then, apparently, it clicked the "Reply All" button.
This, for the benefit of readers unfamiliar with the intricate workings of email (like, say, those of you who work at the ESRB) had the unfortunate side effect of plastering every email address being responded to - nearly 1000 in all - on every email sent out. In other words, whatever address you used to contact the ESRB has now been fired out to random people across the internet about a thousand times.
The irony is moist and delicious, although probably not nearly as hilarious to people caught up in it as it is to those of us who get to stand on the sidelines and watch it whiz by. In the ESRB's defense, this was obviously an honest mistake, committed with the best of intentions, but that doesn't change the awkwardness of the situation. If you're going to present yourself as "Privacy Certified," then you really need to be careful when you're dealing with matters of, you know... privacy.
UPDATE: The ESRB has released a statement addressing the erroneous breach of privacy. "In our effort to respond quickly to the thousands of gamers who wrote to the ESRB, we inadvertently revealed a limited number of recipients' e-mail addresses in our reply," said ESRB Director of Communications Eliot Mizrachi. "This was both unfortunate and regrettable, and for that we sincerely apologize to all those who were affected. They deserve to trust that their information will be handled with the same confidentiality, care and respect that we require of companies that display our Privacy Online seal. We take this issue seriously and are doing everything we can to ensure it does not happen again in the future."
A follow-up email has also been sent out, explaining and apologizing for the situation.
Yesterday we sent an e-mail to a number of consumers who wrote to us in recent days expressing their concern with respect to Blizzard's Real ID program. Given the large number of messages we received, we decided to respond with a mass e-mail so those who'd written us would receive our response as quickly as possible - rather than responding to each message individually, as is our usual practice.
Through an unfortunate error by one of our employees, some recipients were able to see the e-mail addresses of others who wrote on the same issue. Needless to say, it was never our intention to reveal this information and for that we are genuinely sorry. Those who write to ESRB to express their views expect and deserve to have their contact and personal information protected. In this case, we failed to do so and are doing everything we can to ensure it will not happen again in the future.
The fact that our message addressed individuals' concerns with respect to their privacy underscores how truly disappointing a mistake this was on our part. We work with companies to ensure they are handling people's private information with confidentiality, care and respect. It is only right that we set a good example and do no less ourselves.
We sincerely apologize to those who were affected by this error and appreciate their understanding.