Privacy: a new storm brewing?

As people await for Linden Lab’s response to the weekend’s revelations around the on-going RedZone Affair, it now seems a new issue is starting to cause concerns.

Darrius Gothly reports that he was recently sanctioned by the moderators of the new Community Platform.  The whys and wherefores of the sanction aren’t important. Was is important, and somewhat worrying for people is that rather than simply send him an e-mail warning him of his “violation” of Community Platform rules, the moderator instead uploaded a screenshot of Darrius’ post complete with Darrius’ IP address to a publicly-accessible photo-hosting website.

Again, it matters not whether IP addresses are “public information”; no-one is disputing that. What is of concern to many is that:

  • The IP address is displayed at all, and can be seen by anyone using the website
  • The image hosting website’s own ToS  itself makes it an offence to display such information

Others who have received similar moderating e-mails have found the same – and they’ve found it relatively easy the use the information supplied in the image URL to poke their way into other photosets on the site itself.

Questions are being asked within the Linden Lab forum – although it is far too early to expect an answer right now. Of those questions, Qie Niangao asks the correct one:

“Umm.  A more basic question:

“Why on earth would any moderation action on the provider’s own platform require a screenshot, ever?

“To cite a particular post in communicating with a contributor, embed the text, title, and time of the post.  That should be a one-click operation, same as a screenshot, without incurring the overhead of shipping a screenshot out to a cloud service.

“What conceivable value does a screenshot add?  Are they trying to show embedded images that may have triggered moderation?  (A screenshot is an absurdly bloated way to do that, too, but I’m not sure that’s even what they’re trying to do.)”

Indeed. Why is a screenshot even be necessary, much less a screenshot that must then be uploaded to an external site?

As Qie states, the moderators should have sufficient access to the Platform to be able to cite the relevant details of a violation and e-mail the person responsible directly. And even if a screenshot is required as “evidence” – why not simply attach it to an e-mail to the person responsible?

There really shouldn’t be a need to post such to a public website, as Qie further notes:

“So… how did screenshots get into the moderation workflow?  Is that brain-damage inherited from Lithium? or layered on top by LL? or by another third party contractor to LL?

“I mean, once they made the basic mistake of using screenshots at all, then there’s the choice of cloud service to store the bulging bit bags of pixels, and obviously whoever chose this provider wasn’t paying much attention.  I just think they shouldn’t have needed such a service in the first place.

“(I’m somewhat less interested in the idea of masking out the IP address before pushing the screenshot; we’re just extra sensitive to IP addresses these days, but in fact none of the information on those screenshots should be hosted on an unsecured site.  “Across the street” they’re having fun paging through shot after shot of other companies’ dirty laundry, so you can be sure other companies’ customers are laughing at the SL forums shots, too.)”

Again, whether or not IP addresses can be regarded as “public information”, this seems to be an inordinately crass approach that has been taken in informing people of any forum “wrong doings”. If it is simply a matter that moderators have been improperly trained, then it needs to be addressed fully and properly with the minimum of fuss, and LL need to issue a short statement that the matter has been rectified.

If it is a matter of policy for Linden Lab to handle these matters like this, then it really does call into question as to what the heck is going on in Battery Street – as there is no conceivable reason for matters to be handled this way at all.

Addendum March 14:

In response to concerns raised, Amanda Linden posted the following:

“Hey all, Thanks so much for flagging this. I have let the moderators know that displaying this kind of personal information–in any form–including screenshots–is not acceptable. Please accept my personal apology. We are still working out the kinks re: moderation and greatly appreciate this kind of input. Stay patient with us while we work through the issues and find the right moderation levels–all with the ultimate purpose of having a lively, productive dialogue on Second Life.

“Cheers, Amanda Linden”

Which is good news. However, one hopes that LL actually determine why there was such a failure in basic training of employed / contracted moderators.

Had the moderators been volunteers / users elected to the position who had had insufficient training, fair enough, but the fact remains that full and proper training should have been received by any and all contracted moderators, and LL should have sought to ensure this to be the case. If the moderators are in-house, then LL should have ensured full a proper training ahead of time.

It’s simply beggars belief that someone could send out a warning, yet not know how to attach a screen cap to it.

Let’s hope this is an end of the matter.