Blown To Bits

Checkmate by World of Warcraft

Saturday, January 2nd, 2010 by Harry Lewis

World of Warcraft (WoW) is a huge online fantasy war game, with more than ten million accounts. Here is a nice holiday-weekend “bits” story: a man with an arrest warrant out on him in Indiana for two years on drug charges has been arrested in Ottawa, Canada. The crucial information as to his whereabouts was provided by Blizzard Entertainment, the game company that runs WoW. As Matt Robertson, the investigator in the county sheriff’s department, tells the Kokomo (IN) Perspective,

“You hear stories about you can’t get someone through the Internet. Guess what? You can. I just did. Here you are, playing World of Warcraft, and you never know who you’re playing with.”

Robertson seems to have take a lot of small steps to put the story together. A childhood friend of the suspect said he had moved to Canada — good to know, of course, but making many of the standard law enforcement protocols useless. Somewhere along the line a tip came in that he was a WoW fan, so the investigator sent a subpoena for the suspect’s records — a transnational subpoena with no legal force at all.

“They don’t have to respond to us, and I was under the assumption that they wouldn’t,” said Roberson. “It had been three or four months since I had sent the subpoena. I just put it in the back of my mind and went on to do other things. Then I finally got a response from them. They sent me a package of information. They were very cooperative. It was nice that they were that willing to provide information.”

That information included the suspect’s IP address, in particular. From the IP address Robertson got the latitude and longitude (here is one site that will do that for you) and then used Google Earth to home in on the neighborhood. He couldn’t quite get to the street address that way, but close enough that Canadian authorities did the rest.

So just remember that. In a multiuser game you can think of yourself as living out of time, out of space, and out of your own skin, but you aren’t. Someone knows a great deal about you, and might even be willing to answer a polite request to reveal it.

Which may be what we actually want. Or is it?

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