Valve Is Not Looking At Your Browser History
If Gabe Newell really wanted to know where to find the best videos of horses being groomed or how many times you’ve Googled the word name Half Life 3, he’d just plug himself into Cerebro and be on his way. Much like Korean Jesus, Valve does not have time for your problems let alone your browser history. At least that’s what they’re saying.
This comes in response to accusations that the company’s anti-cheat system VAC is pinching your browser history and sending it back to Valve. The allegations surfaced from a Reddit user’s decompilation of a single module in the system.
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Responding directly on Reddit, company founder and leader Gabe Newell broke his usual policy of not talking about how VAC works (because the more cheaters know, the more easily they can circumvent it), explaining what it is VAC does that might appear to be scoping your browsing habits – and why.
“Cheat developers have a problem in getting cheaters to actually pay them for all the obvious reasons, so they start creating DRM and anti-cheat code for their cheats. These cheats phone home to a DRM server that confirms that a cheater has actually paid to use the cheat,” he wrote.
“VAC checked for the presence of these cheats. If they were detected VAC then checked to see which cheat DRM server was being contacted. This second check was done by looking for a partial match to those (non-web) cheat DRM servers in the DNS cache. If found, then hashes of the matching DNS entries were sent to the VAC servers. The match was double checked on our servers and then that client was marked for a future ban. Less than a tenth of one percent of clients triggered the second check. 570 cheaters are being banned as a result.”
This particular tech has been in effect for 13 days but Newell argued that exposing its workings to the general public only benefits cheaters.
“There is also a social engineering side to cheating, which is to attack people’s trust in the system. If ‘Valve is evil – look they are tracking all of the websites you visit’ is an idea that gets traction, then that is to the benefit of cheaters and cheat creators,” he wrote.
“VAC is inherently a scary looking piece of software, because it is trying to be obscure, it is going after code that is trying to attack it, and it is sneaky. For most cheat developers, social engineering might be a cheaper way to attack the system than continuing the code arms race, which means that there will be more Reddit posts trying to cast VAC in a sinister light.
“Our response is to make it clear what we were actually doing and why with enough transparency that people can make their own judgements as to whether or not we are trustworthy.”
Newell ended his post with the following adorable Q&A:
- Do we send your browsing history to Valve? No.
- Do we care what porn sites you visit? Oh, dear god, no. My brain just melted.
- Is Valve using its market success to go evil? I don’t think so, but you have to make the call if we are trustworthy. We try really hard to earn and keep your trust.
I think Newell was fairly candid about this and while transparency is usually recommended, in this case it makes sense to hold back and rather keep VAC as a blackbox system.