Malicious Viewer detection systems

There has been what can only be described as an ongoing war of words enacted over on the official flogs relating to the use of “Viewer detection systems”. This fight has been focused on the Gemini CDS (Copybot Detection System) and it has people hotly divided for the most part: those who are “pro” the system, those who are “anti”, with a lot of name-calling and aspersion-casting going on between the two.

Essentially, Gemini CDS offers people protection from “copybotting Viewers” by detecting them when an avatar using such a Viewer tp’s into range. It can then either alert the land owner to the individual’s presence or it can boot / ban them – and add their details to a blacklist shared among all versions of the system that have been deployed in-world (i.e. there is a back-end database external to SL supporting the system). Further, the ban remains in place, even if the alleged violator subsequently tries to access a protected sim / area using a “legal” Viewer. To support the network ban list, purchasers of the system pay L$700 a month over and above the initial purchase price of the system.

The system apparently works by using the media streaming capability built-in to the Viewer to identify known “copybot” Viewers and thus take action against them (assuming, I gather, the user has media streaming enabled on the Viewer). There has also been a lot of hype surrounding the ability of this system to somehow automatically ban alts of those found to be using “copybotting” Viewers at the same time as the initial ban is handed out – leading to (unfounded) claims that the tool illegally scans the local computer.

Leaving aside these wilder (and pretty much unfounded) claims of data scraping, Gemini CDS would appear to offer a degree of protection against content ripping. However, having toiled through the seemingly endless flog threads on the subject as well as bouncing around other SL-related forums (where the debates surrounding Gemini CDS are as prevalent), I have serious concerns as to the effectiveness of the system, and something of a niggle relating to its validity.

For a start, the system appears to have been largely deployed by store owners, who give it the loudest praise in the flog. BUT – the vast majority of stores use vendor systems (with some notable exceptions in the furniture and housing markets) – and goods contained in vendors cannot be ripped. Ergo, aside from those who are utterly naive when it comes to content ripping, it is highly unlikely “serious” rippers are going to be plonking themselves down in the middle of stores.

Even the effectiveness of the system cannot be examined; while store keepers may point to the “fact” that Gemini CDS has ejected X people from their store / sim in any given week – this does not automatically equate to said individuals being genuine content rippers nor does it mean content ripping is in any way being deterred (again, because it is unlikely serial content ripping is taking place in stores).

Then there is the question as to exactly how endemic content ripping really is. The flog shows the level of fear / paranoia circulating on the subject, with ugly fighting erupting among content creators themselves. Within the flogs themselves, some store owners openly admit to ejecting people who stand around in their stores for more than a couple of minutes without moving, because they “know” these people are ripping their content (again, unless the content is on open display – such as being modelled – it’s hard to see how this can be the case).

As such, it is hard to accurately assess the spread of content ripping through the use of malicious Viewers simply because of all the FUD that surrounds them; and this being the case, it is fair to ask whether tools such as Gemini CDS actually feed into this FUD, simultaneously feeding on people’s fears while creating a veneer of comfort and sense of protection – while all the time generating a revenue stream for the creators of the system.

One might argue that profit or not, the fact that Gemini CDS gives the perception of being protected against thieves, then it is sufficient deterrent – and I am, after all, one who is pretty big on seeing perception as a motivator, as my comments around third-party Viewers will demonstrate.

But really, the answer to this must be “no”. Deterrence only works when it is shown to deter (prevent / discourage). When one strips away all the hype, arguments, hyperbole and misinformation circulating around Gemini CDS one is driven to a single conclusion: it will have absolutely minimal impact on “serious” content ripping. While store keeper may well feel comforted by seeing this system boot 5 or 6 people a week from their sim and even consider that in doing so, it is enabling them to “do their bit” to stamp out content ripping – the very sad fact remains that ripping will continue unabated elsewhere on the grid  – and probably at levels that have remained more-or-less unchanged for the last several years.

The there is the annoying niggle over the validity of the system. Gemini CDS is owned an operated by individuals outside of Linden Lab. They have no “official” position within Second Life and no sanctioned authority. They maintain the Gemini CDS system under a blanket of secrecy that goes far beyond the need to protect (as they put it) “trade secrets”. There is no oversight as to which Viewer is or is not branded a “copybot”, there is no oversight of their ban list and there is no guaranteedmeans of appeal should someone feel they have been wrongly banned. Indeed, as Mitzy Shino has already found out, the owners of the system are predisposed not to accept appeals and lift bans.

I won’t go so far as to claim Gemini CDS is insidious or a waste of time per se. While the system has been developed by individuals with a questionable past, others have managed to test it to the point where it is not doing anything overtly insidious – my only caveat being that we only have the creators’ word that it is only collecting data related to the use of “copybot” Viewers (although as I use Emerald, I’m in a bit of a cleft stick in this regard). Further, that it does give store owner a naive sense of security – which they are entitled to, having paid for the system itself and continue to do so on a monthly basis in order to retain their sense of comfort – then I’ll grant that is has done some good for them.

But I’d draw the line far short of Gemini CDS being the kind of panacea for content ripping many portray it to be believe. In the wider scheme of things, the best one could say about Gemini CDS is that it is a placebo – :quit! (for those familiar with Copybot “destectors”).

2 thoughts on “Malicious Viewer detection systems

  1. Well, furniture stores usually do have their stuff on display, so I can see this being of some use for them, beyond the mere placebo effect.

    I haven’t been following the discussion very closely, but have to admit that personally, I am generally suspicious about *any* system that uses a blacklist – because, whatever its creators may say, there’s always people who end up on those without any fault of their own, and experience teaches that it tends to be extremely difficult to get off a blacklist once you’re on it.

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    1. Fair point on the furniture stores – I still use a rezzing system myself. I had considered adding a caveat for the large furniture stores and builders that have demo houses out on sim. I should in fairness qualify my statement – especially given that I made the comment (perhaps unfairly) as a result of clothing designers appearing to be the ones shouting the loudest around the entire issue.

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