Razer

Is your Razer mouse packed with DRM, while spying on you? (Probably not.)

Is your Razer mouse packed with DRM, while spying on you? (Probably not.)

Readers have been sending me a forum post that complained about the new drivers for Razer mice, making claims that the software requires an always-on Internet connection, spies on players, and won’t activate at all without an account being made. During the course of this particular player’s set up the activation servers for the Synapse 2 software were down, so the program wouldn’t work at all.

This sounds terrible, right? Some aspects of this situation are suspect, and some seem to be more paranoia than an actual problem. I caught up with a Razer representative to figure out what was going on, and to see if things were as bad as they sounded.

Standard language

The Synapse 2 drivers come with newer mice, and the software suite is designed to allow you to save your settings and options to the cloud, so any Razer mouse you use on any computer will work exactly the way you’d like.

The advantage is that your settings are no longer limited to the storage found in the mouse, so you can keep everything running a certain way and your settings are kept standardized across multiple pieces of hardware that are synced automatically. Since this is all done online, you need to create an account and authorize the hardware once in order for everything to work. After that you can enable offline mode, and not have to worry about losing your connection. The reports that claim the mice require an “always-on” Internet connection are inaccurate.

Reports that Razer hardware is being “bricked” if you don’t register the software are likewise incorrect. If you don’t like this system you don’t have to use the drivers at all; you can always stick to the standard Windows or Mac mouse drivers, although you may lose certain features. Still, many products don’t require software to adjust many of the settings.

“For the DeathAdder, for example, you can still program your buttons, but you have to do it through the game or Windows, not through the driver. Some adjustments would need to be made through the driver on some mice or via a switch on other mice,” A Razer representative told the Penny Arcade Report. “By default, some of our mice have DPI switches or adjustments natively. I think there is some confusion that you’re losing a majority of the features without a driver.” The mice remain plug and play, but different models will allow you to do different things through either the drivers or using the hardware itself.

Gamers are also worried about Razer’s Terms of Service, which refer to information being gathered without any way to opt-out of the program. I asked Razer was information was being tracked or kept.

“We are only syncing your settings, as we need a way to identify users with their product(s), and link product setting to the user, so the account creation is name and email, that’s really it,” they explained. “I’m not sure what information gathering you are speaking of, but the idea that the software is recording anything more than user created settings for storage in the cloud is not correct.”

I sent in the offending portions of the Terms of Service, which includes the following lines:

“User Generated Information” means any information made available to Razer through your use of the Software. Subject to the Privacy Policy mentioned above, you expressly grant Razer the complete and irrevocable right to use, reproduce, modify, create derivative works from, distribute, transmit, broadcast, and otherwise communicate, and publicly display and perform the User Generated Information and derivative works thereof in any form, anywhere, with or without attribution to you, and without any notice or compensation to you of any kind.”

Razer responded by claiming this aspect of the Terms of Service was “standard boilerplate language.” You can see the same language in the Steam Terms of Service:

“Subject to the Valve privacy policy referenced in Section 1 above, as applicable, you expressly grant Valve and its affiliates the complete and irrevocable right to use, reproduce, modify, create derivative works from, distribute, transmit, broadcast, and otherwise communicate, and publicly display and perform the User Generated Information and derivative works thereof in any form, anywhere, with or without attribution to you, and without any notice or compensation to you of any kind.”

According to Razer, no person information is being collected outside of the name and e-mail address used to create the account.

How things have changed

The company admitted that sometimes the activation servers for the software are unavailable, and recent issues have been related to the same natural disaster that knocked out Kotaku’s servers for a number of days. 

“…As far as the Synapse 2.0 activation server goes, we realize that we have had intermittent issues with it due to server usage spikes and, most recently, because of Hurricane Sandy – not uncommon challenges with server-based functions, especially given the severity of the storm – and we’re working on increasing server reliability,” Razer CEO Min-Liang Tan stated on his Facebook page.

Still, it’s possible to avoid all this bullshit if you’re not interested in using the features of Synapse 2. Razer has stated that they will keep legacy drivers available for existing product lines. This will allow you to use all the extended features of the mice without needing to make an account or go online to activate the software. The availability of a selection of drivers seems like a fair compromise; how many people are going to own enough Razer products to make cloud-based syncing necessary?

You only need to go online once to register the product, the company claims no information is being collected, offline mode is available once you create an account, and if you want to bypass this craziness you can just stick to an earlier version of the Synapse software or not use Razer’s drivers at all. But DRM? Spyware? That doesn’t look likely.

(Disclosure: Our photographer, Dabe Alan, has done contract work for Razer in the past. I was unaware of that relationship when I wrote the story, and no text was changed once the relationship with disclosed. For this reason, however, I didn’t feel comfortable running an image created by Alan for this particular story.)