The latest documents released by Edward Snowden through the Guardian have the NSA (and British Intelligence - GCHQ) now monitoring conversations in gaming networks. Some of the largest communities were mentioned specifically: World of Warcraft, Second Life and XBox Live.
Al-Qaida terrorist target selectors and … have been found associated with Xbox Live, Second Life, World of Warcraft, and other GVEs [games and virtual environments]," the document notes. "Other targets include Chinese hackers, an Iranian nuclear scientist, Hizballah, and Hamas members.
Agents have been deployed into games like World of Warcraft trying to recruit informants and tie specific accounts and characters to Islamic extremism and arms dealing efforts. (Note to self: quit using my gamertag: xaraan).
They have also "successfully been able to get the discussions between different game players on Xbox Live." If they are searching for various weapons terminology, I wonder how many Call of Duty and Battlefield gamers are now on the watch list.
If properly exploited, games could produce vast amounts of intelligence, according to the NSA document. They could be used as a window for hacking attacks, to build pictures of people's social networks through "buddylists and interaction", to make approaches by undercover agents, and to obtain target identifiers (such as profile photos), geolocation, and collection of communications.
Times reported that Blizzard-Activision has said about their World of Warcraft network that they are unaware of any surveillance and if it's occurring it "would have been done without our knowledge or permission." Whereas the makers of certain a piece of hardware that is sitting in millions of living rooms right now capable of monitoring audio and video has had no comment, though Microsoft has cooperated with the NSA in the past on inquiries into Outlook and Skype*.
Both the NSA and GCHQ have declined to confirm or deny these reports. According to some "journalists," information like this should not be reported until both sides have commented on the matter. Oh, wait, that's only when the "other side" provides your website with content, never mind - we're good to go.
So gamers, make sure you talk about how awesome America is when you're gaming online, avoid knights in three-piece suits, and be aware that your tirade about what you did to someone's mother may be on a government database somewhere. Also, Be sure to read through the whole (less snark filled) story about the documents released through the New York Times.
A spokesperson told Eurogamer the company had not detected any spying through Xbox Live - and insisted if it did occur it wasn't done with Microsoft's blessing.
"We're not aware of any surveillance activity," the spokesperson said. "If it has occurred as reported, it certainly wasn't done with our consent."
Microsoft has spoken out against the government surveillance of its customers and joined other technology giants such as Google, Yahoo, Facebook and Twitter by signing a jointly-authored document entitled 'Global Government Surveillance Reform'.