Privacy in SL is a nebulous thing.
We can employ banlines, security orbs and other systems; we can restrict parcel access to those without our own Group, or by access list; we can even resort to ban lists and systems that support them.
Whatever option we take, the fact remains that, unless we have our own private sim (Homestead or full), our privacy lasts only so long as someone who is so minded opts to step up their draw distance and use their camera to zoom-in and watch us.
The ability to “camera-perve” has long been an issue in SL. Indeed, it was one of the worries people had when the grid merger took place: while those under 18 may well be restricted to G sims, if they are on mainland, there is nothing to stop them from camming out of a G sim and into a neighbouring M sim and seeing something they shouldn’t.
Now even that might be about to change in the near future.
A new parcel-level permissioning flag is currently being tested on the beta Grid, and could soon be rolled out to the main grid with a number of other new parcel capabilities. This is the Hidden Avatars flag, and when set against a parcel, it will have the following impact:
- All avatars inside the parcel will not be rendered in the Viewers of those outside the parcel, however avatars inside the parcel will be able to see one another
- Avatars outside the parcel will not be rendered in the Viewers of those inside the parcel
- In either case, avatars will still show up on the map and mini-map as dots/icons as usual.
This isn’t an ideal solution to all matters of privacy; objects within the parcel will be visible and touchable by those outside the parcel, for example, and it may even lead to confusion for some (open chat conversations apparently popping out of thin air – the SL equivalent of hearing voices). However, this is a step in the right direction when it comes to increasing people’s personal privacy when combined with other privacy features such as the aforementioned security options.
It’s not clear when (or indeed if) this new option will appear on the main Grid; not everything tested by the Lab in the beta Grid winds up as being rolled out to the main Grid, but looking at it now, and limitations notwithstanding, there doesn’t appear to be any major reason why it shouldn’t find its way onto the main Grid in the near future. Indeed, one has to wonder why LL have been resistant to implementing it in the past, given it has oft-been requested by users over the years.
If you want to test Hidden Avatars for yourself, you’ll need to log-in to the beta Grid using the SL Viewer 2 (I found things didn’t actually work that well when I was running Firestorm, which is based on the 2.4 or 2.5 Viewer 2 code). Instructions for doing this can be found in the SL wiki.