Once Human's Terms of Service EULA sparks privacy "spyware" concerns after fans spot eyebrow-raising data collection policy, devs respond to assuage worry: "We will only use your data lawfully"

Once Human
A giant radar dish "Deviation" monster accompanied by several "Deviant" minions in Once Human. (Image credit: Windows Central)

What you need to know

  • Once Human is a new free-to-play multiplayer survival shooter from developer Starry Studio and publisher NetEase.
  • The game launched on Tuesday afternoon to a "Mixed" reception, with most negative reviews coming from players concerned about the game's End User License Agreement (EULA) and NetEase's privacy policy.
  • In the policy, it's noted that NetEase can collect personal data like government IDs, mailing addresses, lists of friends on social media, and other things that have raised player eyebrows.
  • In response, Starry Studio and NetEase have posted in the game's Discord server in an attempt to assuage concerns, promising that they "will only use your data lawfully and reasonably and in accordance with local legal compliance requirements."

The highly anticipated open world survival shooter Once Human finally launched on Tuesday afternoon after multiple beta tests in recent months, but it's off to a bit of a rocky start — and not because of issues with its gameplay. So far, the vast majority of the negative reviews keeping the free-to-play game at "Mixed" on Steam actually cite the game's Terms of Service End User License Agreement (EULA), and publisher NetEase's privacy policy.

Under that privacy policy, Once Human collects various different types of personal data from its players, such as names, gameplay info, preferences, marketing data, details about the device you're using to play the game, and other information. The list of what's collected is quite lengthy and extensive, but most of it doesn't seem particularly unreasonable or unlike what other publishers gather.

What are raising eyebrows quite a bit, though, are the sections of the privacy policy that note NetEase can collect things like government-issued IDs, lists of friends on social media, geolocation details, and mailing addresses. After spotting these, a wide number of players have left negative Steam reviews for the game, with several outright accusing it of being "spyware" and used for identity theft.

Multiple players open fire (literally!) against some off-screen enemies in Once Human. (Image credit: NetEase)

In the wake of these claims and complaints, developer Starry Studio and NetEase have responded in the official Once Human Discord server, attempting to assuage concerns by assuring players that data is only used if there's a "legitimate legal basis" and explaining that you don't have to use NetEase's Loading Bay launcher to play the game if you don't want to (many players don't trust it).

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"Once Human takes our users’ data privacy very seriously. We would only use personal data if we have a legitimate legal basis, such as providing requested services or acting with your expressed consent," reads one post from the Once Human team. "We will only use your data lawfully and reasonably and in accordance with local legal compliance requirements, while practicing the data privacy principles such as data minimization, purpose limitation, and transparency. We appreciate and welcome any and all feedback given by our players to help us improve."

The developers continued, noting that "players who play the game from Steam or Epic will NOT need to download or use the [NetEase] launcher" and imploring fans to "please rest assured that we will continue to maintain a transparent, player-friendly gaming environment, not only because it’s required by law, but also because it’s the right thing to do."

A player explores the wilderness in Once Human. (Image credit: NetEase)

Another statement reiterates that things like government IDs will only be collected if local laws require it or if the developers need to verify the identity of a user's parent to get consent for their child, and says this information will be deleted as soon as it's no longer needed. Notably, it also states the publisher has "recently revised [its] privacy policy with the aim to improve clarity and transparency, which will be published soon."

Coupled with a general distrust of NetEase titles (previously, users have fiercely criticized them for things like aggressive microtransactions and infrequent patches), it seems a lack of clarity is precisely what led to this situation, with many players not fully understanding the reasoning behind Once Human's privacy policy. Hopefully the publisher's revised policy will clear things up.

Outside of this controversy, Once Human is gaining some significant popularity. As I write this, the game's concurrent player count on Steam is about ~125,000, with a peak of 126,223. That makes it the ninth most-played game on the platform at the moment; I've enjoyed what I've played of it so far, though nothing about it seems particularly groundbreaking, at least in the early game.

Once Human is here, and the multiplayer open world survival shooter might just end up being one of 2024's biggest and brightest PC games. Notably, it's completely free to play, so you can check it out without spending a penny.

Once Human | Free at Steam

Once Human | Free at Steam

Once Human — a free-to-play multiplayer survival shooter set in a post-apocalyptic future where an alien lifeform overruns Earth — looks to be one of 2024's biggest game releases. It's out now on Steam, the Epic Games Store, and NetEase's Loading Bay launcher, and is coming to iOS and Android as well.

Also at: Epic Games Store | iOS App Store | Google Play Store

Brendan Lowry

Brendan Lowry is a Windows Central writer and Oakland University graduate with a burning passion for video games, of which he's been an avid fan since childhood. You'll find him doing reviews, editorials, and general coverage on everything Xbox and PC. Follow him on Twitter.