Technology

Is Epic Games Store user data accessible by the Chinese government?


A thread on reddit rose to the front page recently, decrying Ubisoft for its always-online UPlay PC system, but also the new Epic Games Store.

Epic Games, known for the Unreal Engine and runaway shooter success story Fortnite, recently launched a digital store front to compete with Steam. Core gamers have been plenty sceptical since its launch, owing to continuing fragmentation of digital store fronts on PC, and Epic Games’ willingness to pay to block games from appearing on other PC platforms.

The scepticism reached fever pitch in that reddit thread with almost 30,000 upvotes, citing Epic Games’ Terms of Service, which seemed to state that any data you generate on the service can be used by Epic however they see fit. The poster extrapolated that it might include the sharing of information with Epic Games’ investors, including Tencent.

Tencent is a massive Chinese tech company with vast investments in Western gaming interests. The Chinese company has also been cited for its involvement in China’s somewhat terrifying 1984-like social credit system, which gamifies Chinese citizens’ behavior. It follows the general wave of concern that global Chinese tech companies may be used by the Chinese government to access the data of foreign citizens.

Epic Games’ Tim Sweeney has offered a response on the same reddit thread (thanks, DualShockers), stating that Epic Games doesn’t grant Tencent (or others) any access to its customer data.

Re Epic Games store: Epic does not share user data with Tencent or any other company. We don’t share it, sell it, or broker access to it for advertising like so many other companies do.
I’m the founder and controlling shareholder of Epic and would never allow this to happen.

The language related to sharing data with the parent companies refers to Epic Games Inc. It’s a US-based company. This language exists because when you buy an Epic game in certain territories (like Europe), the seller of record is our local (e.g. European) subsidiary company for tax purposes, but the data is ultimately stored by Epic Games Inc.
Tencent is not a parent company of Epic. Tencent is an independent company that’s a minority investor in Epic, alongside many others. However they do not have any sort of access to our customer data.

The other language around data in the EULA generally exists to cover the cases where we use third party service providers as part of operating our online services. For example, our game servers and databases are hosted on Amazon Web Services. However these third parties do not have the right to use or access Epic customer data in any way except for providing that service.

Without having a majority controlling share, simply owning a stake in Epic Games wouldn’t necessarily give them automatic access to customer’s data. A security consultant we work with also couldn’t find any evidence that the Epic Games Store is sending information to Chinese servers, at least not directly. Given the amount of youngsters that play Fortnite, you would have to hope that Epic Games takes its data security seriously.

With Epic Games reportedly banking $3 billion in profit driven largely by Fortnite, hopefully, Epic will be able to remain sufficient without giving up any more shares to companies with questionable interests. At least for now, there’s no real reason to think Epic is doing anything untoward with user data.



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