EA Origin EULA Causes Commotion In Germany

EA Origin EULA controversy
The Origin EULA caused a commotion around the world.

German gamers are ready to rumble over the EA Origin EULA – and my geek gene tingled upon hearing of the fracas. After all, rarely does a case come along that involves mobile technology, Internet law and Battlefield 3.

Last week, German computer commandos set their status to AFK and launched a real-life assault on EA Games. Some marched into Media Markts and Saturn Shops demanding refunds for their already used copies of Battlefield 3. Other folks, armed with curse-words, descended upon the game’s amazon.de page, which now resembles a freshly conquered battlefield, except that the bloody corpses are vitriol-filled reviews.

What caused the onslaught? The fine print of an end user licensing agreement is to blame.

Der Spiegel Spilled The Beans About The EA Origin EULA

Let’s be honest, hardly anybody reads EULAS; but reporters on the hunt for a story will read anything, and all that EULA reading presumably paid off for one industrious journalist at German news magazine, Der Spiegel. The reporter hit the jackpot after taking a magnifying glass to Origin’s (a program Battlefield 3 users must download to play the game on a PC) agreement. What they found equaled bad news for EA.

Always Read The Online Privacy Fine Print

Buried in Origin’s end user agreement was a caveat that gave EA and their anonymous partners the right “to gather, store and transmit technical and related information on IP addresses, usage data, software, equipment, software usage and existing hardware peripherals” for “marketing purposes.” In other words, by agreeing to the EULA, gamers gave EA the thumbs up to monitor, analyze and share their online activities for behavioural marketing ends.

Don’t Mess With The DPD

Unfortunately for EA, the European Union’s Data Protection Directive clearly and strictly outlines what can and cannot be done with digital information. In fact, the DPD affords more consumer privacy protections than current US online privacy laws. Like many Americans, Germans tend to take their civil liberties seriously, and the German gaming citizenry was not impressed that EA’s EULA broke national online privacy laws.

To compound the problem, incriminating pictures surfaced online that allegedly showed the Origin service accessing external programs, in addition to data synched from mobile phones.

Denials and Promises Regarding the EA Origin EULA

EA Germany immediately responded to the uproar with the usual assertion of “taking privacy seriously” and employing “every possible precaution.” EA executives also promised that they  “don’t have access to pictures, documents or personal data that has nothing to do with the execution of the Origin program on the system of a player, neither will they be collected by us.”

The operative phrases in that statement being “neither will they be collected by us” (was someone collecting PII prior to that moment?), and “data that [has] nothing to do with the execution” (you need a computer to execute the game, so where is the line drawn?).

EA also got busy re-writing its end user license agreement for the German market.

Time will tell if the EA Origin EULA incident will cause an international online privacy incident.

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