Epic have responded to a growing concern from PC players that their recently launched Epic Games Store is snooping on users’ Steam data without permission. A post on the Phoenix Point subreddit from user notte_m_portent outlined how the launcher access DLLs and root certificates without notifying the user, before shipping that data off to Epic themselves. The launcher also appears to make local copies of Steam files like your friends list without your consent.

Daniel Vogel, Epic’s VP of Engineering, was prompted to respond to these specific allegations, stating that the tracking pixel that the Epic Games Store uses, tracking.js, is used for the Store’s Support-A-Creator program, while the launcher sends hardware reports to Epic on a regular basis, which is outlined in the privacy policy.

As for how the launcher interacts with other active processes like Steam, Vogel had this to say: “We only import your Steam friends with your explicit permission. The launcher makes an encrypted local copy of your localconfig.vdf Steam file. However information from this file is only sent to Epic if you choose to import your Steam friends, and then only hashed ids of your friends are sent and no other information from the file.”

Naturally, with Epic’s known ties to Chinese company Tencent, and their known proclivity to pass off data to the Chinese Government, users immediately reckoned Epic were using this tracking software for nefarious means. It’s a rumour that’s been around since the Epic Games Store was first announced, but Vogel tried to dissuade this notion by saying that: “Epic is controlled by Tim Sweeney. We have lots of external shareholders, none of whom have access to customer data.” Right, so it’s not the Chinese Government peeking at player data, it’s a corporate CEO. Seems like a lateral move.

Tim Sweeney himself then waded into the debate, actually citing the reason for the code was because he wanted the Epic Games Store to launch as quickly as possible: “You guys are right that we ought to only access the localconfig.vdf file after the user chooses to import Steam friends. The current implementation is a remnant left over from our rush to implement social features in the early days of Fortnite. It’s actually my fault for pushing the launcher team to support it super quickly and then identifying that we had to change it. Since this issue came to the forefront we’re going to fix it.”

Though it’s good to see the CEO confirming that this issue will be resolved, this is just the latest in a series of bad PR events for the Epic Games Store, mostly centered around the idea of game exclusivity on PC. The idea of exclusives on the Epic platform also seems at odds with a statement from Sweeney back in 2017 when speaking to PC Gamer:

“The thing that I feel is incredibly important for the future of the industry is that the PC platform remains open, so that any user without any friction can install applications from any developer, and ensure that no company, Microsoft or anybody else, can insert themselves by force as the universal middleman, and force developers to sell through them instead of selling directly to customers.”

While the Epic Games Store tracking user data might just be an unfortunate oversight, it’s doing nothing but adding to a growing level of dissatisfaction with the platform as a whole. The Store is still in its infancy, lacking in basic features like shopping carts, achievements, cloud saves, user reviews and mod support, all of which are scheduled to be added over the next year. Until Epic can actually get the store to a level where it can compete in functionality with Steam, they’d do well to avoid this missteps in the future.

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