Earlier this week, Steam introduced a handful of new privacy options and, in a move that doomed number-crunching megalith Steam Spy, changed its default settings so that only friends can see which games you’ve been playing. In this one particular area, Steam is now ahead of the rest of the pack.
Illustration: Tara Jacoby (Kotaku)
If you want, you can manually make your game details public. This includes how many hours you’ve spent with individual games and also whether or not people can see you as “in-game” when you’re playing particular games. That information is no longer divulged by default. Given that people have, in the past, used those details to start shit and even harass Steam users, this is a good first step for a service that was previously lacking in the privacy options department.
For comparison’s sake, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch still default to letting anyone see your game information, though what exactly that means varies between platforms. Origin and GOG, meanwhile, are stricter with their defaults, but also less socially-oriented.
On PS4, strangers can by default see your profile, the games you’ve played, and the trophies you’ve earned in them, but not your playtime. Still, that means that unless you change your settings, you’re easily searchable by your handle on third-party databases such as PSNProfiles.com and people can, say, give you crap for quitting Destiny without earning a single trophy (not that I would know).
However, PlayStation 4 also offers more granular privacy options than Steam, treating game activity, trophies, games, hidden games, and requests to watch you play as separate categories, which you can reveal to anyone, no one, friends, or friends of friends. PlayStation has similarly granular options for friends and messaging as well, including real name displays that are, thankfully, relegated to “close friends” by default.
Lastly, the platform occasionally asks you to look at your privacy settings and consider revising them – something every platform should be doing in these times of constant firmware updates and other changes.
By default, Xbox’s adult accounts take an open-book approach. Everybody can see your profile, as well as your game and app history. The one thing Microsoft’s box is particularly strict on is real names, which are blocked entirely by default. Last month, however, a glitch made many Xbox users’ real names public by mistake. Microsoft scrambled to fix the privacy-violating bug, but you might want to check your settings every once in a while, just to be safe.
Xbox, like PlayStation, offers a bevy of individual options including toggles for who can communicate with you, see your friends list, see if you’re online, see what you’re watching or listening to, and view your activity list. There are also far more restricted (and private) account types for children and teens, which can be managed by adults.
The Nintendo Switch also defaults to revealing your play activity – including an approximation of hours played – to all other Switch users, though pretty much everything else (including whether you’re online or not) is friends-only.
Beyond that, the Switch’s privacy options are pretty simple compared to the other two consoles, largely because the Switch’s online offerings are more barebones than a Dry Bones. There’s no built-in messaging, no way to search people unless you own a Switch, and adding friends is a convoluted process, although the new social media options make that a little easier.
Electronic Arts’ Steam-like service defaults to allowing everybody to see your profile, which might strike you as alarming if anybody actually used Origin. If you’ve ever accidentally installed it, though, you should know that it does reveal your game library to whichever Tom, Dick or Titanfallfan27 might peruse your profile, but does not reveal achievements or other game details by default.
The DRM-free PC gaming service GOG used to be a bit looser with its privacy defaults, but last year, it changed the setting for conversations to “friends only” to cut down on spam and “hostile messages”. If you aren’t somebody’s friend, you can’t see their game libraries or much about them, though you can still chat with them in forums and things of the like.