Virtually Speaking

Second Life along with the First.

Welcome to Myspace 2: Goodbye Anonymity

As the current controversy rages over Linden Lab’s announcement that subscribers will be required to verify identities in order to access adult content in Second Life, a lot of unexpected fallout is also happening.

Yesterday I attended a question-and-answer session with Robin, Daniel and Philip Linden.  About a dozen or so residents were present to query them on details of the ID verification system they’re planning.

Much of their feedback was reassuring — concerns over the links between Integrity and their parent company, Aristotle International, Inc, were largely laid to rest by revealing that Integrity will be prohibited by contract from sharing any information with Aristotle.  So we don’t have to worry so much about spam from PACs or donation appeals from the Republican Party.

Near the close of the session however, the Reuter’s reporter asked a question that has begun to send some shock waves through the grid:

[10:43] Eric Reuters: will linden be offering gender verification as well now that is has the data?
[10:43] Daniel Linden: We could do that, as part of the system.

At first blush, you might ask “so what?”.  This would probably be a welcome tool for residents who are planning to SL-marry another avatar.  It would probably become a requirement for escort agencies who don’t want angry customers finding out that hot escort they paid $2,000L for was actually Fred the beer-gut truck driver in Mississippi.

And, after all, it will be an optional part of the tools available for residents, right? 

As I understand it, the new verification system will only be used by the Lindens to verify that you are who you say you are and that you are over the age of 18.  It will be a “yes or no” result passed back from Integrity.   But residents who verify will apparently have additional options available to them — if you choose to, you could have your RL name, address, gender, and other details about yourself available for other residents to view.

I immediately thought of Myspace,  that backwater of teenage angst where “privacy” is secondary to being validated and accepted by your peer group.  I’ve seen my daughter’s Myspace page, and I’ve been horrified by the real life information her friends reveal about themselves — and I’ve been told I am “prehistoric” for forbidding her from revealing certain things about herself, as well.

This dinosaur just isn’t ready to risk being stalked or having her real world life printed out on a public website for all to see.   I see a lot of residents in SL these days who have real pictures of themselves, even their Myspace address and AIM screen name showing, and I’m shocked and appalled at the lack of concern they show for privacy.

On one level, I understand their need to connect with peers in some way that is separate from school and family control.  But on another level, I see a generation which has done a one hundred and eighty degree turn from the days of my own youth, when computers were bad words and the general paranoia was all about turning people into numbers.  The Myspace generation, on the other hand, has embraced the thing.  They’re putting their faces on those numbers and charging ahead with no fear of their own safety — is that naivete or optimism?

So,  while the Lindens take steps to protect themselves from legal responsibility for all the age play and the minors on the grid, the unexpected consequence for many of us will be an unwanted loss of anonymity.

Some Second Life residents live out their SL lives as an extension of their real lives.  They have no need for the fantasy or anonymity elements which make the grid so appealing to thousands of others.  Until now, both approaches have been valid and co-existed in harmony.

But in my opinion, the new ID verification system — as badly as it’s been needed for the last year and as strongly as I support the general concept — is also going to rip away the veil of anonymity many of us prefer. 

Sure, revealing your location or gender is going to be optional.   Just like it is now, when the first thing out of so many guys’ keyboards is often “Where are you from?” or “Are you really a girl?”  or “How old are you?“.   Age/Sex/Location is a common and acceptable question in AOL chat rooms and instant messaging.  But it often rubs up against the anonymity of Second Life and creates cultural rifts as those AOLers meet people like me who don’t want you to know much about me unless I’ve grown to trust you.

With the new verification system, we are liable to find that the real world hierarchies of gender prejudice begin to manifest themselves.

Transgendered and Transsexual residents will be the first to feel the pinch.  Certainly a great many of them are honest about their status, but what about those who wish to explore the side of themselves that they’re not physically equipped to be without the ostracism and ridicule they experience in real life?

Women in general aren’t going to be immune – as one forum poster noted, women are liable to be griefed if they don’t confirm gender and stalked if they do.

As it stands, most residents realize and accept that a number of ‘women’ in SL are really males playing female avatars.  For most of them, it’s a non-issue.  It just hasn’t been that important in the culture that is Second Life.

Not any more.  Now that the tools are there to reveal your identity, I expect the social pressure to accompany it — use the tools or fall under suspicion for being a game player and a liar.

In the Q&A with the Lindens, Philip said that one of their goals was to make Second Life safer and to promote some trust among residents.  It will do that, to a point.  But ironically I think it will also create distrust and social conflict for those who choose not to fully utilize the verification tools we’re getting.

My friends and my family know me because I trust them enough to reveal myself.   My husband knows my gender because he’s seen everything.  As for everyone else on the grid who wants to get into my virtual pants because my avatar is hot, but think that because I’m reluctant to lose my cherished anonymity I’m a liar,  you can go to hell.  I don’t care what you think and it angers me that the methods chosen by the Lindens are being rushed into production with so little thought to the consequences that the results are liable to be the opposite of what they intended.

It’s exactly what they did a year ago.  Same poor planning, same disregard for social impact, and the same unforeseen results. 

My peers back in the 70s had it wrong:  the computer age isn’t turning us into numbers.  It’s worse.  Computers are destroying our privacy and limiting our freedoms in ways nobody expected.  

Welcome to Myspace 2.


May 9, 2007 - Posted by | Second Life


  1. […] Welcome to Myspace 2: Goodbye Anonymity […]

    Pingback by Second Life controversies « MoeTown Productions | May 9, 2007 | Reply

  2. If you’re a dinosaur for wanting a bit of anonymity then so amI…and I am probably not much older than your daughter.

    Comment by Estella Jimenez | May 9, 2007 | Reply

  3. “If you’re a dinosaur for wanting a bit of anonymity then so amI…and I am probably not much older than your daughter.”

    Ooh. What a faux pas! If you were a boy, you’d be in trouble for even suggesting that Cin might be old enough to have a grown up daughter. O_o

    Good post Cin. You know I share your views on anonymity. My First Life tab doesn’t give any info in SL and will stay that way.

    I also agree that we have been clamouring for ID verification and a stop to the open floodgates for a long time. But it seems like SL is going for a worst of both worlds approach… Maybe. On the one hand, this closes nothing. On the other hand, the way they are rushing their announcements and misrepresenting the state of their relationship with an ID verification supplier leaves me a bit unsettled.

    It looks like LL is going about this in its usual blundering way.

    Comment by Wendel Gascoigne | May 10, 2007 | Reply

  4. Found this on another site’s discussion of all the hullaballoo and it made me laugh (funny cuz it’s true):

    I do love that Linden Labs is feigning horror and realising that they, like the rest of the internet, can charge people for porn, too, both at the same time, though.

    Comment by Jezebelle Voom | May 14, 2007 | Reply

  5. i keep wanting to say “protofascist repression” .

    it feels like that to me.

    it seems to me that everytime the suits arrive on the net they bring the protofascist good-for-you-police with them. then they all start making things nice for us, because we are too fucking stupid to know what is good for us. they make it Pretty, but in a kind of martha stewart eraserhead “in heaven everything is REALLY nice” grotesque fake silk flowers in a plastic vase with easy listening music in the background. the people who MADE the net did not want grotestque fake silk flowers in a plastic vase. they wanted the real, dirty, inconvenient flowers in glass vases that BREAK.

    i don’t smoke, but really the good-for-you-police make me really want to START smoking. they make me want to eat pork fat and get a tattoo and dye my hair green and pierce my labia. really.

    Comment by montserrat snakeankle | June 12, 2007 | Reply

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