Sony hasn't been out of the headlines in recent weeks, with hacks into both the PlayStation Network (PSN) and its Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) net gaming platform. While the numbers involved are pretty small, they're a reminder that the convenience of paying for entertainment services with a credit card does come with some risks.
While there are more PlayStation owners than SOE customers, it struck me that having to take down the online games altogether, which was Sony's initial strategy, could be a more impactful incident long-term. After all, people paying for online multiplayer games cough up subscription fees every month, rather than just when a particular online title grabs them. That said, leaving everything operating as normal would have risked more reputational damage.
Mark at our sibling site Kotaku reported yesterday that a total of 336 Australian card numbers were amongst the 12,700 breached in the SOE attach. Sony was quick to emphasise that some of those cards might themselves be defunct. However, even if we assume that's an absolute figure, it's still a very small proportion of the active credit cards in Australia. Yes, it's a massive nuisance if you're one of those 336 people, but using a credit card these days essentially means accepting the risk that, at some point, it might be used fraudulently.
Under those circumstances, what you'd hope for is that the fraud is detected quickly and that you don't end up wearing the costs. Like many people, I've had the experience of the bank ringing to query a transaction on my credit card which turned out not to be mine. (And yes, I rang back rather than assume the person on the end of the line really was from where they claimed.) It's annoying to have to change all your automatic payments to a new credit card number, but that's a lot less annoying than being hit with a bill for thousands of dollars, and at least it was detected early.
Where I can, I try and avoid storing credit card details with these kinds of entertainment services. Apple, for instance, seems to have a highly permeable infrastructure. Last year, I logged into iTunes and discovered that I'd been charged $20 or so for content I had never downloaded. I contacted Apple support and they were relatively quick to refund the money, but wouldn't offer any explanation whatsoever on what might have happened. To judge from anecdotal evidence and a few Google searches, this is not an uncommon experience.
As such, I'm glad that my iTunes account only ever has gift card credit in it -- assuming that happens again, there's a defined limit to what can go wrong. I might be more willing to use a credit card if Apple was willing to be more open and transparent, but that's clearly a cultural shift that isn't going to happen. Sony has done a much better job of being open about the problems, which would make me more likely to trust it if I did need to supply a credit card. Nonetheless, I'd seek strategies to avoid that if I did ever decide to take up online gaming.
What strategies do you adopt to minimise risk when accessing online entertainment? Tell us in the comments.
Lifehacker's weekly Streaming column looks at how technology is keeping us entertained.