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Canessa: Blizzard Trying To 'Wrap Its Head Around' Anonymity Issues
Canessa: Blizzard Trying To 'Wrap Its Head Around' Anonymity Issues
October 21, 2010 | By Kris Graft

October 21, 2010 | By Kris Graft
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More: Console/PC



When Blizzard said earlier this year that it would disallow the use of aliases on its forums, many users were quick to show their disapproval -- so much so that the World of Warcraft and StarCraft developer retracted its requirement to use "Real ID" on Blizzard forums.

What the developer confirmed from that experience is that -- even in a game's forums -- anonymity is not just about protecting one's privacy, but it's key to suspending disbelief. Being "someone else" is actually part of the gameplay, and just because people are okay with being open about their identities on Facebook, that openness doesn't necessarily translate to games.

Blizzard's Battle.net project director Greg Canessa told Gamasutra in a recent interview that the role and importance of anonymity in online games is still something the company is trying to figure out.

"Facebook has had a lot of influence, a lot of influence on me personally, in both positive and negative ways," Canessa said. "I love and respect aspects of what [social networking] is trying to do."

He continued, "... There are some very interesting social dynamics that are going on around the perception of anonymity, and what social networks like Facebook and MySpace have done to interfere with that veil of anonymity in the online space."

"I think it's an interesting sociological phenomenon that you have, in which people are completely comfortable putting their name, face, kids, wife and personal information out there for the world to see in Facebook, yet they're not willing to do, in some cases, similar things in the game space."

He attributes gamers' preference towards anonymity to their desire suspend reality. "That's been a very interesting thing for us to wrap our heads around at Blizzard."

The trick for Blizzard has been to try to promote the adoption of Real ID while not turning off players who choose not to use it. Blizzard has done this on Battle.net by opening up community features to those who use their real names.

"We were a little surprised by the controversy [about requiring real names on forums], mostly because it was kind of wag the dog. It was not where our focus was [for Real ID]," said Canessa. Real ID is more than a policy or option to use one's real name -- it's actually Blizzard's branding for community features that use real names as a basis for an in-game social suite that includes cross-game chat and Real ID friend discovery.

"That part was really, really positive, and that's where the Battle.net team has been focused," said Canessa. "The forum stuff was kind of a side thing. The forums aren't that big of a deal relative to Blizzard's overall business. And so we were a little surprised. ... [But] we listen to our community. They didn't like it, and we quickly moved off of it."

Canessa's comments to Gamasutra came as part of a larger interview with the Blizzard executive, and more sections from it will be posted in the near future.


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Comments


Curtis Turner - IceIYIaN
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<3 MySpace (:



Having hot chix post an endless stream of hot pix + knowing if they're even in your state = the no-brainer of the InterwebZ... Wait omgz I can talk to them too?!?!?!



As for gaming, I think we're totally used to creating aliases. Why be Curtis Turner... When I can be "IceIYIaN" or "Death"?

Matjaz Puhar
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"I think it's an interesting sociological phenomenon that you have, in which people are completely comfortable putting their name, face, kids, wife and personal information out there for the world to see in Facebook, yet they're not willing to do, in some cases, similar things in the game space."



I don't think it's a phenomenon - FB is real life, games aren't. If you're a "nice person" IRL and a dick in games, I can see why you wouldn't want your identity revealed.

To me, assuming a game characters identity is closest we can come to being a super hero/criminal: putting on a mask and fight crime/law/bad/good guys.

Benjamin Marchand
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Absolutely. I really think one should frequently browse WoW forums to understand that.



Two big hidden unconfessed reasons for the RealID fiasco :



1) Trolls



Basically, WoW forums, all over the world, are infested with trolls (troll as a behaviour, not a race). I've seen the most disgusting ones over there. You write something, you have ~50% chance to find, at some point of the thread, a guy who will flame, deny, insult, just for the sake of flame, deny, insult. Some are basic minded, but some others are really pernicious. It's a plague on those forums, believe me, and any WoW player who started in 2005 will aknowledge how the community sunk down because of trolls.



At game launch, trolls posted on their main character, but soon offended people found appropriate answers. Those trolls had guilds, private forums and stuff that you could easily track via Google and a bit of searching. You could literally destroy a troll's ingame life by denouncing him to his guild, server, or stuff.



So what followed was trolls hiding behind a level 1 character, which you couldn't guess anything about the player because of the char's total lack of personification.



What happened with this RealID thing is absolutely not related to "keeping the fantasy safe" for most. It is just that releasing people's real name would also allow to do a search on your most hated troll one year ago, look at his name, characters, and strike back as hard as you can.



That just made trolls piss in their pants, and massively voice fake arguments against RealID.



2) Guild betrayal



In this game, you have to join forces (= a guild) to beat most of the content. A guild is comparable to a small enterprise, where you need funds (gold coins), resources (potions, crafting materials, etc), and a stable roster. If a guild is not able to maintain a reasonable and stable level for these 3 parameters, monthes long, it won't be able to beat the highest (and indeed most interesting) content.

The problem, in my 5 years experience as a guild officer/trend watcher, is that 90% of WoW players want "everything, NOW". So the majority will just quit your guild if you don't manage to give them everything, NOW. They don't care if it takes a lot of work, they don't care about the people's real life preventing them to make things go faster. They just want results without effort.



So since you can just change your char name for 10 bucks, a lot of them would gather guild resources/reserved loots, quit in an eyeblink, and change their name to be unrecognizable. - Or just create another char, letting the guild sapped from one character for monthes without notice. You know ... "just in case of a result come back"... -



Now I'll let you imagine what would happen if all those betrayed guilds would have access to every character of known person ... They would simply warn the whole server about it, and the guy's chance to find a new good guild would be cut by an half.





There are other pernicious, unconfessed implications, indeed, but these 2 are huge.



Don't fool yourself about your playerbase, mister Canessa.

Claudia Hoag
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I completely agree. Those are the most prevalent issues against Real ID, especially in the forum. But there is still the "break of disbelief", and I think it deserves a closer look. A lot of people play the game to escape their "real lives", it's true - but more than breaking the make-believe, a look at their real lives could unveil some ugly stuff that currently doesn't exist when they're playing: 30-(or more)-year-olds living in their parent basements; overweight teens; or a lot of other things that some people may feel vulnerable about. In game, they can interact with other players without ever having to deal with those things, and that's what the unbelief is. For many players, that's a very important factor to make they play hours a week. Blizzard should know that.



I do like the fact I could find real life friends and acquaintances in the game, though, so I'm all for Real ID. Wishing I could find right now from my Facebook friends, who plays WoW. I guess it's just for StarCraft II for now?

Cody Scott
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because trash talk loses its fun when someone takes it to personally and shows up on your door step.

Bisse Mayrakoira
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Graft writes "What the developer confirmed from that experience is that -- even in a game's forums -- anonymity is not just about protecting one's privacy, but it's key to suspending disbelief."



"Confirm" implies substantial evidence. But at least in the quoted sections, Canessa doesn't claim anything was "confirmed", nor does he say anything about Blizzard doing actual research into the matter. For all I know, Canessa is speculating, but that is not what this article makes it sound like.



Also, is the last sentence of the third-last paragraph a quote? It sounds like one but doesn't have quotation marks.



And this wasn't a "section" of an interview. Post the full transcript of the interview, it's about 100x more interesting than filtered scraps which might or might not be out of context. If you have insightful commentary to add, post *that* piece by piece.



The blindingly obvious reason for people to want pseudonymous participation using their account or character name is the ability to compartmentalize their social life and interaction to shield themselves against known and unknown threats. Few people choose to carry their full name and address posted on their chest and back IRL. Choosing to keep your personal data hidden protects you against nosy employers, relatives, acquaintances, stalkers, weirdos and obnoxious teens. Why did the interviewer not bring it up and find out what Canessa thinks about this & what Blizzard's official priorities on this are?

Benjamin Marchand
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"Choosing to keep your personal data hidden protects you against nosy employers, relatives, acquaintances, stalkers, weirdos and obnoxious teens. "



This is a true reason, for sure. But I don't support it.

If one takes that route, he just have to keep himself anonymous on the whole internet, not only WoW. It's not really a good alternative to privacy protection.

Plus, honestly, if any employer judges your professional qualities upon a game social life, you'd better NOT want to work for him. :)

Bisse Mayrakoira
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You fail to understand this is not primarily about "a game social life" but what happens in the real world after "game social life".



How would you like someone putting up a racial supremacist blog in your name, with your mugshot in the sidebar, and googlebombing it to the top of searches for your name? Mailing child porn to your work e-mail and cc:ing your boss? Just for example.



Very few people read my LinkedIn entry. Those who do are not random but self-selected. They have already learned my name from somewhere else or are acquaintances of acquaintances, and they have an account on LinkedIn. Furthermore, the entry contains virtually nothing that can get emotional traction.



On the other hand, if I connected my real identity to a game character who goes around merrily murdering other characters for their hard-gained items at the rate of tens a day, that means I - my real identity - is in contact with thousands of people a year in an emotionally charged context. Only one of them needs to be a vindictive nut.



Getting the picture yet?

Mihai Cozma
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Well, by using Facebook, a person doesn't interact with anybody, only with confirmed friends. You can't assume all starcraft players and wow players are friends with each other. More than this, user interractions on Facebook have lesser impact than being mercilessly beaten 3 times in a row on starcraft or ganked all day by same person on wow.

Benjamin Marchand
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Hardcore ganking / ingame persecution didn't wait RealID to exist, sadly.

Benjamin Marchand
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For WoW, the only real solution is to make all the characters of one account publicly browsable.

This way, bad people would just never be able to have a serious ingame progression as their reputation would follow them, whatever char they make.

Todd Boyd
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...and if you didn't want your strict, Alliance-is-the-only-way guild to know about your Horde characters in a competing guild? What then?

Benjamin Marchand
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This would imply to change server, as you can't have 2 different factions on one server. So this would also imply losing all your alts, gold, heirlooms, and contacts. I guess this would be a minor case ;)

Florian T.
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bull...you can have chars on both sides, even on pvp servers. get your facts straight

Benjamin Marchand
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My facts are straight, kid. You need 2 separate accounts to have chars on both sides. So that's not "bull" in this discussion.

Peter Smith
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Straight, bull, whatever. Yer just wrong, Benji.



Perhaps once upon a time, PVP worlds were like this. Far as I understand, not any more. But I've been on Elune on the North American servers since release, and I've always been able to create both Alliance and Horde toons on the same account.

Benjamin Marchand
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That's odd :o

Here in Europe, last time I tried I got an error message :)

And those ads about paying for transfering your toon to other faction... Well if I'm wrong, I apologize.

Bart Stewart
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Whoa, whoa, whoa... on what evidence can anyone (including Blizzard) conclude that a fear of losing "suspension of disbelief" is the primary reason for the noisy objections to reducing anonymity in the Battle.net forums?



That completely flies in the face of the frequently-stated and overwhelmingly majority attitude that "it's just a game." Suspension of belief -- that is, voluntary immersion in a secondary reality -- is something that only roleplayers and Simulationist gamers ever mention as a primary play interest. The typical grinding/leveling/achievement-collecting WoW player is far more likely to mock those who express an interest in suspension of belief than to care about it themselves in the games they play.



If Blizzard asked some WoW players why they didn't like the Real ID idea in the Battle.net forums, I'm sure there were a few people who honestly cited a negative impact to "suspension of disbelief" as a reason. But the majority of WoW players? I *strongly* doubt that.



Benjamin Marchand has it right, IMO. In-game, Achiever-driven gameplay concerns, the perceived loss of Battle.net as a place where verbal abuse was tolerated, and the "piling-on" effect that happens whenever some game controversy happens, are the most likely reasons for the mass outcry against Real ID in Battle.net. "Privacy" was never anything more than a convenient, good-sounding excuse for most of the objectors, quickly parroted from the few thoughtful people who (rightly or wrongly) felt that implementing Real ID on a game forum would meaningfully impair their privacy. "Suspension of disbelief" wasn't even in the running as a stated concern.



I always want to give professionals the benefit of the doubt that they're honest and competent. But It's hard to accept any person at Blizzard not suffering from an intense Reality Distortion Field would truly believe that losing suspension of disbelief was the majority reason behind the Real ID flamage.

Bonnie Nadri
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The point here is that the consumer/customer should have a choice, period. There are those who won't mind, there are those who will, and there are those who will abuse whatever is introduced. For my part, the issue is purely choice. I simply won't participate in an offering where I cannot control my own personal information; I decide who gets it, I decide when or how much of it they can get, and I decide where my own comfort level is in relation to revealing my information to the general public or other customers.



This is not a difficult concept to grasp, and if there is an issue with poor behavior driving this effort, then perhaps Blizzard should consider the nature of enforcement rather than creatively destroying personal privacy choice to avoid having to enforce their policies.



Consistency in enforcement is the reality of the deterrent factor in any policy. Lack thereof renders it moot; if those who were behaving in purportedly unacceptable ways lost access at a level consistent with true inconvenience or perceived negative effect more regularly, it would soon become both apparent and accepted that yes, in fact, there are boundaries and yes, if you cross them, you will experience negative results.



The anger I delivered during this mess was purely generated by the idea that a corporate entity would or could honestly expect me to be willing to compromise my privacy because they cannot or will not effectively police behavior. Blizzard simply is not going to convince me that they lack the resources to do so (or the ability to get them), and it is unusually shoddy and irresponsible of them to seek the "easy way out" when this area in particular (engaging and enjoyable community) is the one space in which World of Warcraft has consistently been lacking.



(Social responsibility is effectively nil among the customer base who participate in forums, et al precisely because every aspect of the game supports the idea that one need not be so; but this is a topic far longer than I have time to engage. I'll end by saying that the choice to monetize every aspect of identity is largely to blame for the resulting sewer of community "standards" and if that surprises anyone, they really aren't, in my opinion, paying attention.)

Todd Kinsley
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I believe in freedom of speech, however you need be accountable for your words. Hiding behind a fake identity so you can make unlimited personal attacks on people online is the action of a coward. You need to believe in the opinions you voice, and you need to be accountable for your words. I agree with the other posters who said that the outcry for privacy was primarily from those who knew there would be negative reactions to the way they behave online. The "trolls" want to hide behind anonymity, and Blizzard has decided to let them.

Cody Scott
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yea but forcing someone to show information because of the actions of a few is a bit harsh.

Christer Kaitila
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It is dangerous to use real names in gaming communities. Virtual combat situations elicit the fight or flight reflex and it is natural that in these adrenaline-induced states people will lash out, full of anger and hate. One reason why I would never use my real name when gaming is that verbal abuse is the norm. Kill some angry teenager one too many times and you will feel the wrath of his nerdrage. But more importantly, game situations often arise where opponents are truly furious and this in-game anger can carry over into the real world and cause untold problems from stalking, to bullying and far beyond (like the age old stories of real life murders taking place due to in-game conflicts). You stole my magic sword! I know where you live!

Bobby Ebbs
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One thing to keep in mind is that not everyone uses Facebook. There are many people who strongly oppose using Facebook for various reasons. If you start trying to mimic Facebook, you will alienate your customers who are against the ideas that Facebook implements. Another thing to note is that Facebook information may only shared with a community of friends. What you say on Facebook may not be publicly available, like Blizzard's forums are. There can be a lot of controversy on game forums as well, and many people might fear linking their real identity to a potentially controversial topic in fear of real-life retaliation. For example, if someone feels that paladins are too powerful and wants to state their case hoping that Blizzard will take it into consideration, someone else who plays the paladin class might get upset because they don't want their class nerfed and try to track him/her down in real life instead of just posting a nasty troll reply on the forum. In other words, real-life safety could be compromised.

John Mawhorter
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If I want people online to know my identity, I tell them. It's as simple as that. No other system works. The reason having your real identity on Facebook is OK is that it only connects you with your real friends/network. Also is there any perceived advantage to the user to ever have his real identity publicly available in an online game? I can't think of any possible reason why this would be good...

Bart Stewart
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Chris and Bobby, the "real-life safety" argument is made in every discussion of the Real ID situation. I don't think you're wrong to point it out as a possibility, but I do wonder if you're considering all the implications.



The argument that "you have to keep your forum identity secret because some people might find you and harm you" is based on giving in to fear. In other words, let the bullies and the nut-jobs win.



What is the inevitable endpoint of a society whose members learn to shrug at asshattery or even actual physical intimidation or injury and say, "Well, nothing you can do about it, better just to hide and hope they don't see me"?



Happily, living in fear of some barbarians is not the only option.



We also have the option of saying that we choose not to be intimidated, and that human beings are rightly expected to behave civilly and responsibly toward other people, and that we as a functioning society will back up that reasonable expectation with appropriate force when necessary.



I suggest that if the perceived problem is people behaving like jerks, whether online or in real life, then the correct response is not to try to hide through anonymity that just perpetuates the problem but rather *don't tolerate that behavior*.

Benjamin Marchand
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- "The argument that "you have to keep your forum identity secret because some people might find you and harm you" is based on giving in to fear. In other words, let the bullies and the nut-jobs win."



Totally agree. :)

Christer Kaitila
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@Bart



As a lighthearted response to your perfectly valid argument:



Would you recommend I never lock my front door so that the home invaders don't win?

Bart Stewart
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Chris, I'm not suggesting that some extreme condition of perfect trust is possible. As the old saying goes, "trust in Allah, but tie up your camel."



I'm saying that things are somewhat better, that society tends to be more civil, when people can reliably recognize each other and when they think there's a reasonable likelihood that they'll interact more than once. (Both of which, not coincidentally, are requirements for the "evolution of cooperation.")



As those two conditions are more effectively met, people behave less like jerks. That's not mere wishful thinking -- there was a time within living memory that whole neighborhoods of people could live together without keeping their doors constantly deadbolted. Neighborhoods of trust within a civil society have existed before; they can exist again.



And I think they can exist online... but not when relative anonymity significantly lowers the social cost of being uncivil.

Brett Williams
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It is interesting hearing what Greg thinks about this situation, though it is a bit of a blanket statement. It is a known fact the majority of the World of Warcraft player base does not frequent the forums. It is a different sub-culture than the game itself, and has its own groups of individuals, and rules of conduct.



I am unsure whether this correlates to the idea that gamers do not want their real name associated to them during gameplay due to an issue of suspending reality. The forums themselves are not gameplay where that suspension of reality takes place. They are a separate community and area related to it because they share the same context.



Both places are about World of Warcraft, more or less. They are both a place where people who are involved in the game interact. However, how they interact, who they interact with, and what the purpose of the interaction is, is entirely different.



I think this is more about the sociology of internet forums, and less about Gamers or anonymity in gaming. Still interesting, though I believe less relevant to the game itself.

Claudia Hoag
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The problem Blizzard found (with surprise) was in the forum. And that supports what Benjamin said. It's the trolling firstly, and the guild issues as well.



But the "suspension of disbelief" is not an absurd theory. Maybe Canessa didn't want to seem to say that some WoW players are real life losers - but many players come online regularly and interact with other "regulars", and would not like them to know that in real life they are not as hardcore or as cool as they seem to be.



The average player spends 20 hours a week on WoW. That's the average of all 10million+ (according to statistics like PARC's and others). That means there's a lot of people out there playing it as a full time job. And from there you can choose what to infer: either no real job/school, or no friends/family, or no exercising/healthy habits, or all of the above. But when they're playing, they fight, they achieve, they have light coming out of their butts when they do cool stuff. And they can be witty and be whatever they want to be, without dealing with whatever is lacking irl. No wonder they don't want their real lives to get in this.

That's not always the case, but I bet it happens a lot, in varying degrees.

John Trauger
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Suspension of disbelief? Really? Can professionals paid for more than me seriously trying to think through why their RealID fiasco was such a huge fiasco conclude the players' roleplay paradigm was being destroyed? The mind boggles.



The issue here is obvious. Control.



I have a Facebook account. I have the privacy settings locked down as hard as they'll go. You don't get diddle over squat about me unless I make you my friend. At least nothing FB doesn't leak about me any number of ways, but that's a whole 'nother issue.



In a forum setting I maintain control by a choosing a pseudonym and appearance to post under. Yeah you can hunt me down if you know how, but most trolls are kiddiez who can't. Google my name, you won't find it very many places on the net outside FB and here, but I've posted in forums under the same handle for the last 10 years. You can google my handle and find a lot of stuff.



What Blizzard wanted to do was take away my control over who has access to *me*, by linking me to the insulating persona I created. Blizzard correctly sees I want the cover of a pseudonym but gets *why* I want it surprisingly and spectacularly wrong. It's like FB suddenly friending me to random people (not all of them compatible or polite) with no ability to un-friend them and then blinking with doe-eyed innocence wondering why I'm upset.



In fact there's a huge amount of similarity between FB's periodic privacy complaints and Blizzard realID fiasco. In both cases changes are being contemplated or made that are outside the control of the users of the service. changes that could have much wider effects that the medium in which they occur.



A better answer to the monumental lack of couth on WoW's forums is to make posting under realiID a *penalty* for repeated bad behavior.



THEN it will only be the trolls complaining.

Dyuman Bhatt
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People will use fake first and last names when signing up for games if they want to troll.



I'm sorry, but the statements by Canessa are just a PR pitch for the Real ID system. Trolls will troll just as much if you know their real name, only this time they know the victims name, race, and gender all from reading the targets name. It actually pushes away casual players from participating in forums for this reason. Sexual harassment issues alone would skyrocket.



Where as I used to friend many people in WoW, the existence of RealID in SC2 has decreased my friends list to only those I know in real life. I don't even spend the effort to friend anyone I don't already know anymore despite the alternative methods available.


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