Reddit users outraged after discovering tracking software in many popular games

Posted 22 June 2018 23:57 CET by Jan Willem Aldershoff

Reddit users have discovered that a large amount of popular games is bundled with software called Red Shell which tracks the advertisement a user clicked to purchase a game. The gamers who discovered the software on their computer are outraged and call for removal of the software. Simply deleting the Red Shell files doesn’t help, as it breaks the game.

The goal of Red Shell is to help game studios understand which marketing campaign attributed to the sale of the game. This should assist the studios in picking the most effective marketing campaigns to further invest in.

Red Shell works by creating a fingerprint of the user’s device when they click an advertisement for a game on e.g Facebook, Twitter, Google or any other website. A fingerprint is also created when a user starts a game with Red Shell for the first time. When Red Shell finds a match between the two fingerprints, it knows which advertisement the user clicked prior to purchasing the game.

On its website, Red Shell lists the data it uses to create the fingerprint, “this data is specific to the device you use and is limited to operating system, installed browsers, screen resolution, available fonts, IP address, timezone, and system language.”

The company stresses that the data is irreversibly one-way hashed and stored in their database along with a unique in-game user id. One-way hashing is a common technology that’s also used to securely store passwords. Most websites only store a one-way hash of the user’s password. When the user enters his password, also a one-way hash of his input is created and compared with the stored hash. When both hashes match, the website knows the user entered the correct password. In the case of Red Shell, the one-way hash also prevents that anyone, including the company itself, is able to obtain the data from which the fingerprint is created.

Despite the measures taken by Red Shell, gamers regard the software as spyware. And although some game studios initially claimed that Red Shell is no spyware but only a tool to monitor the effectiveness of their marketing campaigns, some game studios have announced they will remove Red Shell.

Red Shell has been discovered in the following games:

  • Astro Boy: Edge of Time
  • Ballistic Overkill
  • Cabals: Card Blitz
  • CityBattle – Virtual Earth
  • Civilization VI
  • Desolate
  • Doodle God Blitz
  • Doodle God: Genesis Secrets
  • Doodle God
  • Dungeon Rushers
  • Eternal Card Game
  • Guardians of Ember
  • Heroine Anthem Zero
  • Injustice 2
  • Kerbal Space Program
  • Krosmaga
  • Labyrinth
  • League of Pirates
  • My Free Farm 2
  • Nostale
  • Raging Justice
  • Realm Grinder
  • Robothorium
  • Rock shot
  • SOS Classic
  • SOS
  • Shadowverse
  • Sniper Ghost Warrior 3
  • SoulWorker
  • Stonies
  • Survived By
  • Tales from Candlekeep: Tomb of Annihilation
  • The Onion Knights
  • The Wild Eight
  • Trailmakers
  • War Robots
  • Warhammer 40k Eternal Crusade
  • Warriors: Rise to Glory
  • Yoku’s Island Express

Game studios have announced Red Shell will be removed from the following games:

  • AER Memories of Old
  • All Total War games
  • Battlerite
  • Conan Exiles
  • Dead by Daylight
  • Elder Scrolls Online
  • Escapists 2
  • Holy Potatoes! We’re in Space?!
  • Hunt: Showdown
  • Magic the Gathering Arena
  • My Time At Portia
  • Omensight
  • Secret World Legends
  • Vaporum
  • Warhammer: Vermintide I
  • Warhammer: Vermintide II
  • Ylands

Users can also opt-out of the in-game Red Shell system by filling in their in-game user ID. Users who also no longer want to be tracked by Red Shell on the internet can also do so from the same page. Simply removing the Red Shell .DLL file is not an option. The company explains the .DLL file contains code that is called from the game and states in its FAQ, “this means that the compiled game code depends on the existence of that file.”

Red Shell has responded with a special page to inform gamers. On that page the company states it doesn’t collect any personal data and doesn’t sell it to third parties, “we do not collect any personal information about gamers. We don’t collect names, emails, or addresses. Our service basically says “this computer clicked on a link from this YouTube video and the same computer played your game.”


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