Privacy: words and deeds

When talking to Dusan Writer recently, Rod Humble made a very interesting statement:

Privacy is extremely important for anyone putting themselves out there, expressing themselves, or expressing a side of themselves through an avatar. People don’t want other people to connect the dots from their avatar to their real life person – or even, for that matter, to an alt. One of the ethical obligations we have is to protect people’s privacy

“People come to Second Life because they want a story, they want to be in a story….and we have an ethical obligation to protect that.

I’m not so sure that the conventional wisdom makes any sense. Yes, it might be technically easy to track people and all that. But in the long-term I’m optimistic that we’ll see the pendulum swing back in the other direction towards more privacy.

And granted, while it can be read at least two ways, LL Board member and investor Mitch Kapor appeared to see the light on matters of privacy when he tweeted:

“The more I learn, the more I see how the whole biz side of social networking is built on surreptitiously stealing personal data”

As regular readers here are only too aware, there has been much of a to-do about RedZone and its data-harvesting & drama/griefing capabilities (I simply cannot refer to it as an “anti-Copybotting tool” due to it being an abject failure in this regard). As has been seen, Linden Lab have made a move to partially close the door on things, although they’ve not – as yet, at least in this affair – gone far enough (and at this point it is only speculation as to whether they’ll go further in this particular matter).

However, the issue of user data – beyond what we volunteer to reveal in our Profiles  – being harvested is still an issue whether or not a single tool and HUD are on the market or not. Viewer patches will help, a clear-cut policy is needed – and users themselves need to be empowered to be able to make a clear-cut choice in matters of privacy.

Ann O’Toole has hit upon one way in which the latter can be achieved, and has raised a JIRA on the matter.

This is an elegant solution because it provides every single user in SL with a choice as to what happens “under the covers” with any data which is linked to them outside of Profile information. As such, it dovetails perfectly with Rod Humble’s stated views on privacy within and beyond Second Life – indeed it encourages the swing of the pendulum to which he alludes –  and curtails the act of surreptitiously stealing personal data which appears to have Mitch Kapor somewhat concerned about in his Tweet.

So – I urge you all very strongly to go visit SVC-6793 and add your weight to those voting / watching the issue – it really is in your best interests to do so.

Hamlet’s credibility takes a plunge

I’m going to have to start a RedZone category at this rate!

Hamlet Au over at New World Notes wades into the mess of the RedZone furore and – well, rather makes a mess of things.

Trying to play down the situation, Hamlet engages in the very worst kind of journalism imaginable, including:

  • Playing down the number of votes on the JIRA: “The JIRA thread has less than 1500 “votes” from Residents who consider the request valid and important…”
  • Quoting Samuel Linden from a “related” JIRA: “We do not consider IP gathering to be an actionable security exploit”
  • Overlooking the broader (and primary) issues around this tool – that of the potential for avatar / alt profiling, stalking, etc., while falling back on the hoary old “your IP Address is public” excuse: “Oh yeah, before you weigh in with your comments about Redzone’s IP address tracking software, keep in mind that if you post here, this Typepad blogging software lets me, well, track your IP address.”
  • Attempts to make light of the whole situation as being meaningless with a quip about a Second Life band, “And while we’re at it, how much of a concern is this for Redzone, the popular Second Life industrial band of the same name but no apparent relation to the program?”

Quite what prompts this display of “journalistic” arrogance is beyond me.

In referencing the JIRA and dismissing it as having “only” 1500 votes, Hamlet deliberately overlooks the fact that for much of the past month the SL General Discussion forum has been awash with complaints and concerns around RedZone and its potential for abuse, thus demonstrating that there is far wider concern than those who use and understand the JIRA.

Furthermore, it may “only” be 1500 votes – but that still puts it right up there among the top-ranking JIRA, and this does account for something, even with LL abandoning voting themselves – or is Hamlet stating user thoughts on any matters within SL aren’t worth a thing?

Then there is the quote from Samuel Linden. While it is genuine, the JIRA itself is over twelve months old and as such, Hamlet’s use of Samuel’s comment is really playing a game of misdirection here; particularly when any such comment has been overtaken by the changes made to Section 4 of the Community Standards – changes that Hamlet, as a journalist prepared to actually investigate the matter he is opining on should be fully aware of.

But just in case it has somehow slipped his attention, let me provide a handy quote aide-mémoire for him:

“4. Disclosure

“Residents are entitled to a reasonable level of privacy with regard to their Second Life experience. Sharing personal information about your fellow Residents without their consent — including gender, religion, age, marital status, race, sexual preference, alternate account names, and real-world location beyond what is provided by them in their Resident profileis not allowed. Remotely monitoring conversations in Second Life, posting conversation logs, or sharing conversation logs without the participants’ consent are all prohibited.”

IF this were just a matter of IP Address gathering, there wouldn’t be a problem; again, those objecting to RedZone have made this abundantly clear. But RedZone does far more than this, as well all know. It seeks to match avatar account information with IP Addresses in an attempt to link alts.

In other words, in case you still don’t get it Hamlet, RedZone harvests alternative account names and attempts to correlate them to real-world location via the IP Address – and this is most expressly not allowed.

Of course, Hamlet isn’t going to see an issue with RedZone because he’s too caught up in the world of Facebook, where Mark Zuckerberg and his idiotic notion that “the age of privacy is over” rule. Indeed, he is utterly dismissive of the idea that any of us have a right to privacy, “Right now, I’m inclined to think it’s a deep concern mainly to a vociferous minority who are vigilantly protective over their privacy. And, of course, Copybot and alt account users.” Nice.

And by the way, Hamlet, I saw exactly what you did there – linking those who wish to maintain a degree of privacy around their SL activities directly with the nefarious acts of “Copybot users”. Nice to see NWN stoop into the worst kind of tabloid trickery.

However, I’ll leave it to Ordinal Malaprop to make the most astute and accurate summation as to the value and accuracy of Hamlet’s piece:

“I really don’t think that anybody who can’t tell the difference between the implications of a website being able to record self-identified (i.e. basically an/pseudonymous) IPs if people choose to submit comments, and those of a system that collects IPs without awareness let alone consent which are automatically tied to a unique identifier, should be writing articles like this.”

Indeed.