Fast-selling PC game Black & White has generated a storm of controversy on messaging boards this week amid concerns that it is being used to spy on gamers.
Black & White sends information about a user's computer (including IP number, registry details and hardware configuration) to a server run by the game's developer Lionhead and publisher Electronic Arts.
This heavy-handed anti-piracy feature is, in effect spyware, critics argue. And clunky too -the game will try to establish an Internet connection when installed on a user's PC, even if it is not been run at the time.
But Lionhead says the fears are baseless; Black & White contacts the Internet in order only to set up a facility that enables players to exchange messages online, the company claims.
In a message posted on gaming newsgroups Lionhead said: "Black & White uses a mechanism for its built in messaging system to tell the server if you're online or not and ready for receiving messages from other friends online. We are not spying on your system!"
However there's a sting in the tail to Lionhead's email: "If you playing an illegal copy of Black & White, the program is self-aware, so if you encounter problems with it, then maybe you should buy a proper version."
The difference between "self-aware" and "spyware" is not clear to us. Electronic Arts could maybe help our semantic confusion - perhaps the company would care to return our phone calls? ®