The video game Watch Dogs—a beautiful-looking technoir thriller about Big Data and paranoia—has gotten its publisher, Ubisoft, into hot water when it comes to the very same sort of sentiment portrayed in the game: accidental breach of privacy. In their marketing, the publisher accidentally exposed numerous fan e-mails to the public.
Ubisoft decided to run with an alternate reality game about one of the characters from the game who runs the art gallery dotconnexion, visible in the game’s extremely visible demo footage from E3 2012, Joseph Demarco. Players could sign up on the site for updates on the status of the gallery and this character and were met recently with an announcement as to his death:
“It is with great regret that we inform you that Joseph Demarco passed away in a tragic, yet unexplained accident. Being one of the most important philanthropists in the local digital art scene, his demise has left a deep void in the community. Out of respect for his friends and family, the dotconnexion exhibition will be cancelled. Sincerely yours, The dotconnexion Team”
However, everyone who signed up for these updates discovered that when they received this update a number of actual customer e-mail addresses were spilled into the Cc: portion rather than Bcc: or even individual e-mails. As a result, everyone in that particular e-mail update now know the e-mail addresses of all the other customers involved.
According to an article on the subject at gaming blog Kotaku—who published a blurred version of the Cc: from the e-mail—it looks like the problem hit only a certain number of people along the alphabet. Whomever was sending the e-mails caught the problem before it flooded the entire spectrum of the marketing project; but it did get quite a few people before it was caught and quenched.
“…forwards we’ve received from readers show the error from addresses beginning with digits and the letters A and B, but forwards from readers whose e-mail addresses begin with the letters I and M didn’t have the same problem,” writes Kate Cox from Kotaku about the e-mail snafu.
Now people who receive that initial Cc:-errored e-mail have themselves become embroiled in an e-mail no-holds-barred as other people respond to the entire list of people and echo-chamber themselves to death in strange fury. Perhaps those who have lived through college or corporate culture in the late 90’s will recall what happens when someone accidentally Cc:’s everyone in their department or class and people start using “Reply All.”
There’s a hint of irony to this particular mistake (to the edge that people are wondering if it’ll be spun as a marketing stunt—although it really looks more like a privacy snafu) is that Watch Dogs appears to be a video game story about cyberculture writ large, about Big Data eating people’s privacy, and the paranoia fitting a technoir cyberthriller involving how people aren’t anonymous when their data is stored digitally.
Even when they’re just signing up for an ARG marketing game from a well-known video game publisher.