An Open Letter to Niantic Labs at Google
My name is Matthew Vaughn. My Agent name is Nethershaw. This is more or less what you hear from me as I shake your hand. We’ve just met for the first time as Ingress players. My custom has become to introduce myself twice: we may have coordinated our actions together on Google+, or we may have crossed paths as competitors on the field. It hasn’t really mattered in more than a year of participating in this grand social experiment, so my ritual hasn’t changed. I am pleased to meet you, friend or foe, and these are my names.
I have reason to be proud of them. I have been an Ingress Agent since December 2012. I’ve made friends with some amazing people. I was a member of fire-team Delta Six during Operation Cassandra in Washington, DC. I built fields and donated Portal keys for Operation 13-Magnus. I designed the community emblem for a group of almost 400 players.
Last week, I managed to claim the eighth position on the Enlightened leaderboard for region AM02-LIMA-11 in the opening measurement of cycle 2014.03, at precisely 1900 hours local time on Wednesday 29 January, by creating a single control field across the Potomac. It was my first regional score. These were my accomplishments. On foot or by car, in fair weather or foul, I was contributing to my community. Mission complete. Job well done. Let’s go again.
Twenty-six hours later, just after driving home from work and hacking the Portals near my home, I found my account banned. I watched it happen.
There was no explanation. An email containing a boilerplate citation of Section 2 of the Ingress Terms of Service appeared in my mailbox a few minutes later. Apparently I had either falsified my location, used an unauthorized Ingress client, or both. This was news to me. It had to be a mistake, or worse, a bad-faith attempt by the opposing faction to have me removed from the game. I immediately sought my community’s advice.
It then also became news to me that I am far from the first player to have experienced this kind of penalty without notice, warning, or recourse. I was told not to expect a response from Ingress Support. I was told there could be no appeal; that I wouldn’t be heard. I was told to give up and start a new account. I disagreed. I did not honestly believe the architects and operators at Niantic would be so deliberately obtuse as to deny a player in good standing a channel for dialogue or an opportunity to defend himself.
I was wrong. After almost a week, I haven’t been granted the privilege of reading a single non-automated word.
Therefore, on my own behalf, and on behalf of all Ingress players whose accounts have been the victims of punitive action without reasonable cause, I bring forward the following grievances against Niantic:
Whereas any player may submit a claim of wrongdoing against any other player with or without validation,
Whereas multiple unique players submitting the same claim can “game” the adjudication process by falsely inflating the weight of an individual issue,
Whereas any judgment by Niantic operating on the basis of such claims by necessity is entirely subjective in nature and separated from actual events,
Whereas Niantic can choose to forego any form of private communication with the accused in matters concerning specific individuals during the adjudication process, especially in cases where irrecoverable actions on the part of Niantic may be taken (i.e., account closure),
Whereas each player freely contributes material resources to Niantic in the form of near-real-time GPS location and pathing information, among other unique statistics, in exchange for access to the game,
And whereas each player naturally develops a vested interest in the accumulation of their own personal data, expressed as Agent metrics, badges, and statistics, and in the access thereto;
We the undersigned recognize and hereby assert that the current adjudication process is deficient to the point of injury to the Ingress community. We further hold that players who find themselves in such circumstances as these are entitled to at least the courtesy of being informed as to the actual nature of the infraction, to the greatest degree Niantic can disclose without compromising legitimate security concerns, and to the opening of a dedicated line of communication with Niantic by which the accused may defend themselves in good faith.
The absence of a consistent, fair, and open adjudication process is categorically damaging to the community-at-large and encourages malicious use of the existing system by players seeking to fulfill personal vendettas. The current process is unacceptably opaque to any accountability or scrutiny, and is critically vulnerable to contrived attacks. In a system where ultimately the decision to permanently ban a player is a subjective one based on incomplete information, there must be an appeals pathway that treats people with equanimity by which mistakes can be recognized and reversed.
My Agent name is Nethershaw. I am trying to make this game better for us all. I want my history back. I want all Ingress Agents to feel safe from abuse of the support system. I want the gaming of players by other players to stop. Niantic: if for no other reason than to remediate one of the worst problems harming you and your player base, please take this seriously, listen, and respond in kind.
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