Why I’m pissed at RedZone

Yesterday, while in-world, I was in IM with a friend, and I mentioned developments regarding the RedZone farrago. The question that came back, after I gave a 3-line summary, was: “Why are you hung up on all this?”

The question wasn’t followed-up with the usual “but IP Addresses are public, blah, blah,” (irrelevant), or simple platitudes  – it was a question to why it affects me so deeply, given I tend to move around SL without the benefits of media anyway (doubly so now, as my friend knows – as does so herself).

To be honest, the question gave me pause. Why am I so all-fired angry about RedZone and Quickware and the rest? Drama is a part of being in SL, and the very nature of the platform means it will always bring out the worst in some people – so why let it get so under my skin?

Well, simply put, because the platform does enable people to abuse one another so readily. RedZone is created by “zFire Xue” – but who the hell is “zFire Xue” – other than (to you and me), a totally anonymous individual who – ironically – hides behind avatar anonymity while trying to “out” you and I in terms of linking out avatar details with our RL locations.

Worse still is the loudest proponent of RedZone, someone who bangs on about his “right” to use it, denigrating all who oppose his as “griffers”, revels in his ability to create mischief – and yet hides behind the veil of the anonymous pseudonym “Crackerjack”. That such people are empowered by their anonymity (and fail to see any contradiction between their own use of pseudonyms while seeks to “out” others), and use it as a weapon against others on the grid pisses me off.

While Linden Lab have responded  – are responding – to this latest situation, I’m also equally pissed off with them.

Security within Second Life has always been lax; while there have been many (and very excellent) reasons for opening up things like the Viewer to open source, encouraging in-world development, looking towards potential business uses of the platform, the Lab has always taken a far too simplistic approach to matters, trying to having a all-in-one solution (the main Grid) attempt to meet a plethora of markets and uses they’ve repeatedly scampered after.

As a result, they’ve been lax in properly identifying the risks to security and privacy inherent in many of the decisions they’ve made, and policy and terms of service have been left woefully ineffective when it comes to dealing with serious concerns. Again, one only has to look at the contradictions in ToS 8.3. and 4.3 with the RedZone farrago to see how contradictory their own legal documents are in these matters.

It has always been this way; I have no idea if it is “west coast culture” (as some claim), or the “Tao of Linden”, a complete lack of concern (so long as the dollars roll in) or pure ineptitude that repeatedly prevents Linden Lab grabbing issues such as this by the balls and simply doing the right thing and stopping it. What I do know is, it is wearing people down. People have left SL over this latest controversy. Others are giving up and retrenching, reducing land holdings, minimising their financial exposure and the rest, simply because the Lab fail to grasp the nettles in their backyard and remove them.

Even now, with a revision to the community standards in place, we’re still seeing creators of these scanning tools working hard to try to get past the ToS, the new media filters and the likes; yet they continue to request ARs on a case-by-case basis.

Many reasons have been theorised as to why this is the case – but the fact is, as I’ve said elsewhere, technical solutions ain’t gonna solve this problem – or any other problem where users within SL get an elevated sense of entitlement they believe allows them to violate the ToS (or indeed, simply come up with a flim-flam system that appeals to those with such a false sense of entitlement in order to get them to part with their cash). If this issue is to be resolved, it’s going to require a clear-cut policy statement from Linden Lab. Period. It’s a policy statement that has got to be enshrined as a part of the ToS, and put up in lights for all to see. It needs to a clear Thou shalt not backed by the unequivocal reality of permabans.

And if we’re honest here, the RedZone situation has more than demonstrated what needs to be done – yet all we get is a token (and unadvertised) change to the Community Standards relating to the sharing of gathered data; not its collection.

And this is another reason I’m pissed off: tools like RedZone already have the potential to allow sick minds to start profiling avatar movements. RedZone even has a HUD users can wear that has the potential to gather information on avatars they encounter. Even with the “sharing” aspect being “disallowed” under the CS, these tools could still be used to gather information – and make it available outside of SL – for those wishing to stalk, spy and grief, as I mentioned in my original post on this matter.

We need a policy that simply outright bans the use of such tools unless used in very tightly proscribed circumstances. Don’t get me wrong – I’m pleased that LL have made some moves on this matter; it’s great that they are adopting the media filter. But unless and until they draw up a clear-cut policy on situations like this, the problem isn’t going to go away, and more and more innocent users are going to fall afoul of those who would prey on them.

And that brings me to the core reason why I’m so “hung up” on RedZone. Last night, after my friend had asked me her question, I dived into the ongoing discussion on the subject over at SLU, and I read this:

“Well I haven’t logged in a while over the head of all of this. It’s hard to be fancy-footed and carefree, skipping to whatever music is playing when in the back of your head you’re wondering if you’re being scanned or if there’ll be an argument just around the corner. Shouldn’t worry too much I know but sometimes we’d just like everything to be perfect in the world if only for a moment. Forlorn hope possibly and no doubt a little rose tinted but imagination brings those expectations for me in SL and hope is such a hard one to let go of.

“I’m even downloading the Windows SDK to build snowstorm just so I can get some of that nirvana back sooner rather than later. And no, I’ve very little clue what I’m doing other than following outdated wiki pages and scouring snippets. I hear ‘geek’ is the new sexy so it may serve a purpose in the end.”

This simple statement cuts to the heart of the entire matter: Second Life should be a world where our imaginations can be set free, where we can feel secure enough to wander, explore, enjoy, experiment and simply be without the constant worry of who might be lurking around spying, scraping, scanning and pawing at us. Of course, we cannot ever be totally secure – you don’t even get that in real life – but we should have the confidence that those who effectively provide and safeguard Second Life – Linden Lab – are actually ensuring our safety as far as they possibly can.

But they’re not as yet, and their track record suggests they won’t. That hurts people such as the poster above. It hurts you and it hurts me. And that’s why I’m so “hung up”.