Big companies changing the rules about how your personal data is stored and viewed by others is the new black. Maybe the custodians of those big companies truly care about your privacy, or maybe they simply don’t want to end up sweating profusely before a senate committee like Mark Zuckerberg. Following Facebook, fitness app Strava, and others, Valve have updated their user privacy settings, announcing widespread changes via the Steam community blog on April 11.
The context of these changes is important: there’s a bigger picture of big data manipulation to worry about in 2018. It’s a picture that features many shadowy, conspiratorial hands pulling the puppet strings of society, and the unknowable menace of companies like Cambridge Analytica. As the picture changes under the will of public outrage at longstanding laissez-faire privacy policies, apps like Tinder – that depended on Facebook’s erstwhile lax settings – now find themselves in a bit of a pickle, unable to pull in the data they need. Steam Spy has apparently fallen foul in much the same way due to the changes Valve have made to Steam, suddenly unable to access the big data it relied on to supply a top-down view of the marketplace.
Bad news if you’re the owners of SteamSpy, then. But in a practical sense, the immediate impact of these changes for you, the person kind enough to use Steam for their PC gaming needs, appears unilaterally positive.
Centre stage is the ability to hide your game library from other users. This might not seem like an earth-shattering development to many, but there are specific scenarios in which it might be a godsend. Maybe you’re the target of harassment because of the contents of your profile information. Perhaps you don’t want the number of hours you’ve spent playing a particular title out there in the public eye.
It might be that you’re ashamed of your staggeringly comprehensive collection of erotic games on your Steam profile. (don’t be, by the way – everyone’s entitled to indulging those instincts as long as they’re not hurting or demeaning anyone along the way). Or, look, maybe you just don’t like having a detailed online footprint out there that tells everyone exactly how you spend your time. Changes to the ‘game details’ area of Steam’s privacy settings options allow just that. You can hide purchased and/or wishlisted games, whether you appear ‘in-game’ once you load one up, achievements, and playtime stats.
The Steam community’s initial reaction to the changes has been largely positive – many people had been asking for these features for a long time, and on reflection perhaps it even seems odd now that those options weren’t there from the start. However, there are also those who view this as an open door for cheating. Suspicious achievement and playtime data that might have provided obvious red flags may now be hidden, protecting cheaters.
That’s the theory. In reality, it’s too early to make that assessment. How anti-cheat programs work with Steam and to what extent they interact with profile data isn’t clear. It will become more so in the weeks and months after these changes are implemented.
Further down the road, the ‘Invisible’ mode mentioned in Valve’s announcement feels like another anti-harassment measure. While in this mode, you’ll appear offline to everyone but retain the ability to view friends, send messages, and receive them. A beta is arriving at an undisclosed date.
It’s a raft of changes that empower the individual with a bit more control over who sees what, and when. If you don’t give a $0.08 trading card about privacy settings, there’s nothing in this updated policy to worry about. If you’re adamant you want to share your data with the world, it’s worth noting that profile data is now visible to friends only, so you’ll need to actively change it back to ‘Everyone’ in your privacy settings. And if you read the headline and assumed that this is some clandestine method to harvest your digital organs – you may want to lay off the illuminati blogs for a while.