Ad campaign tracker Red Shell removed from PC games after surveillance concerns

21 Jun 2018

Many PC gamers were unhappy to discover Red Shell software. Image: palagorn damuk/Shutterstock

PC gamers raised concerns about tracking service Red Shell and developers have taken notice.

Red Shell posits itself as a marketing firm that helps video game firms improve ad targeting for potential customers. The company says it helps game companies “measure the effectiveness of their marketing campaigns” by “tying information from marketing campaigns to in-game play”.

It is installed along with games and it tracks user device data elements such as OS, browser information and IP address among other things. Red Shell is adamant that no personal information is collected by its service. It says it checks whether players who have it installed on their games visited a market’s campaign on platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.

Popular games contained the software

Since the discovery of the software in certain games such as The Elder Scrolls Online, Dead by Daylight and Conan Exiles, players have been complaining about it on Steam and Reddit forums. Users want to know what developers were trying to harvest data, with some of the users even describing Red Shell as spyware.

One Reddit user, Alexspeed75, said: “… the fact is that this is software from someone i don’t trust and whom [sic] never invited, which is looking at my data and running on my pc against my will.”

Publishers and developers have removed the software from certain titles, despite claiming that the intentions behind the use of the software were benign. The developers behind Dead By Daylight said: “We integrated Red Shell with the goal to track the efficiency of our marketing campaigns (how many players clicked on our advertisements on social media platforms and then purchased the game afterwards). There was never any intention to sell data to third parties.

“That being said, we have seen the player frustrations expressed about the use of this technology. Our passionate and dedicated fans are the reason why Dead by Daylight is a success, especially the ones who have been with us from the beginning. We have removed Red Shell from Dead by Daylight in the 2.0.0 update.”

Red Shell responds

Adam Lieb, a spokesperson for Red Shell, told Steamed that the company was “disappointed” and reiterated the assertion that Red Shell does not sell data on to third parties.

He added: “We do what we do because we love working with game developers to help grow their games and build their communities. The last thing we’d want to do is anything that is going to upset their communities.” He also stated that the software doesn’t run in the background of machines when games are not open, which is a common claim that was spreading on the discussion forums.

Many other Redditors voiced the need for an opt-in function for developers to be allowed use such services in the future. Even with the recent passing of GDPR, the interpretation of what is and isn’t personal data is a grey area in this case.

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects