2011 SL Fantasy Faire

“From Saturday April 2nd to Sunday April 10th 2011, thousands of Second Life residents and creators are coming together to support the American Cancer Society’s vision of a world without cancer.  Friends Fighting Cancer (FFC) have transformed nine sims of Second Life into a fantasy wonderland:  the Fantasy Faire 2011 to benefit Relay for Life of Second Life (RFL of SL).

“The Fantasy Faire 2011 is the largest gathering of fantasy designers, enthusiasts, roleplayers and performers in the virtual world.  Ten days of commerce, special events, live music concerts, exclusive items auctions, RFL ribbon hunts and fundraising to benefit Relay for Life and the fight against cancer.  Avatars, clothing, furnishings, gadgets, goodies and exclusive items are available from top SL Fantasy Creators in stunning sims designed by builders creating some of the most noticeable fantasy spots on the SL destination guide.”

These are the opening pragraphs of the official 2011 Fantasy Faire press release.

It promises to be one of the largest user-organised events in Second Life, and it is all in a very good cause.

Find out more:

With thanks to Ciaran Laval.

Restoring confidence

Just how widely known is the RedZone issue?

One could argue that it is constrained to a few hundred people – the Greenzone group, those that blog about the situation and those that participate in or watch the SLU Epic Thread. Many are involved in all three, making the count apparently smaller.

However, go in-world, and it is clear that a lot of people are aware of the issue. Talk comes up in Groups, Notecards are being distributed, advice given, and so on. CouldBe Yue, a long-time resident is spearheading a Twitter / Facebook campaign to make sure the word on issues of privacy is spread outside of Second Life itself – and is in full view of Linden Lab employees – including Rod Humble. Whether this is advisable or not, given the aggressive tone, is hard to say. It could so easily backfire, if one is honest.

That said, Rod Humble actually took time out to make a couple of appearances of at SLU: the first to publish a couple of comments in a thread designed to poke gentle fun at him; the second to make it clear he is aware of the levels of concern by sitting in on the Epic Thread itself – not contributing, just quietly watching.

Many are getting decidedly upset that despite all that has happened, RedZone remains available in Second Life. As such, innocents unaware of all that has happened may well be getting sucked into the scam. Some are already writing Rod Humble off as a CEO; others are demonstrating more patience.

But…one thing is clear. Confidence is being hit. Privacy issues cannot be ignored. Not only do they impact individual users in terms of their enjoyment of the platform, they threaten to destabilise one of its major selling points: – the ability to enjoy rich media content and performances by live artists all over the world.

If people simply shut down their Viewer’s ability to deliver media, or repeatedly keep hitting DENY on their Media Filter, than music of any kind in SL is going to be a major casualty. As it is, determining what may be a genuine music stream and what may not, isn’t particularly easy for the non-technical. Ergo, unless some positive action is taken, there is a risk more and more people are simply not going to risk accepting unknown media streams – and could well stop going to venues and shows.

As I’ve already commented, it is time for LL to stop playing whack-a-mole in these matters.

But, what, precisely can they do? Viewer 2.x doesn’t have the Media Filter, so any public statement could, at the very least, result in people stampeding away from it to third-party viewers. At worst it could result in panic in general, a further loss of confidence and very negative tabloid headlines (“Linden Lab admits Second Life wide open to hackers and fraudsters!”).

Some have said the lack of action on RedZone specifically is due to an on-going Federal investigation. Well, this may be so; but I can hardly see the Feds saying to LL, “No, you can’t protect your users from this scam, because we need to do X, Y and Z.” Let’s face it, LL can block and ban any item or individual howsoever they like, without having to give a specific reason – and removing the items from in-world is hardly going to bring any Federal (or other) investigation screaming to a halt.

It’s far more likely that RedZone is still there because, despite all his faffing around in the past, the creator has, technically, made the device compliant with the revised Community Standards. But really, this is no longer reason to allow the device to continue in-world.

It has been established the database has been hacked; the exact status of the database is unclear data has been shared – not intentionally, perhaps, but that just makes things worse, whatever the reason for the hack.

Therefore, anyone still using the product is putting their own details and information relating to anyone else entering their land without the benefit of the Media Filter potentially at risk. Therefore, it is simply in the best interests of all concerned to ensure RedZone is removed from all in-world locations.

Right now, the longer it remains, the longer people are going to stay focused on it, and the greater are the chances that SL’s – and LL’s – reputation is going to suffer greater damage, be it through tabloid reporting or through Twitter and Facebook campaigns.

I still have faith in Rod Humble. He walked into the middle of this mess, and so it’s going to hit him hard. I would also like to believe that he genuinely believes his own comments on matters of privacy. As such, and in order to start rebuilding confidence, I’d strongly urge Rod to:

  • Have RedZone removed from the grid. Now. Whether or not it is in violation of the ToS and / or the Community Standards is no longer relevant.  The database behind it has been compromised; it is no longer clear if the database is up or down, or even under the control of the individual who created it. As such, the risk to those both using the device and those being unwittingly scanned has potentially increased exponentially
  • Made sure adoption of the Media Filter in Viewer 2.x is accelerated. Make it a priority. Get a Viewer updated out into the world with the Filter included. People can wait a little longer on things like VWR-1037, but the Filter is a must
  • Made sure the release of the Media Filter with the patch is fully and properly covered: go out and blog yourself. Explain some of the issues – no need to be alarmist – describe what steps have been taken; get Torley to give a short tutorial on the Filter
  • If you’re comfortable with it, give an indication of what, internally, LL are looking at doing in the future to further strengthen the platform.

Beyond this: make sure that you address issues around the matter of data collection. Looking at the sharing of data simply isn’t enough. Sure, there are circumstances where you’d like third-party organisations to be able to collect demographics and other information; there are also user-run services that you doubtless find valuable – as we do – such as Tyche Shepherd’s Grid Survey that need to be allowed to continue. But such cases can be ring-fenced. Checks and balances can be defined.

You have a ToS and a set of Community Standards and a Privacy Policy that stand as a triumvirate guarding the entry portals of Second Life – but they are either somewhat contradictory in terms (ToS 4.3 and ToS 8.3 being the clearest examples of this), or they simply take on a one-sided approach of safeguarding Linden Lab.

If you truly care about your users, take the time to overall the ToS the CS and the Privacy Policy and make them a cohesive set of documents that protect Linden Lab and offer your users a reasonable expectation of security and privacy as they go about their Second Lives. Be transparent. People will trust you more for doing so.