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  Linden Lab Lays Down Law: Give Your ID, Or Give Up Adult Content  
Posted 2007-05-04 by Tony Walsh
Linden Lab has announced that new restrictions on how users consume and host content in Second Life will be rolled out by mid-May. According to an official blog posting, users who do not pay a fee to verify their age will be restricted from accessing Mature-rated areas of the virtual world. These areas will be identified by virtual land owners, who Linden Lab says "are morally and legally responsible for the content displayed and the behavior taking place on their land." Land owners will be required to flag their land as "adult" if it contains "adult content."

According to Linden Lab, "The verification system will be run by a third party specializing in age and identity authentication. No personally identifying information will be stored by them or by Linden Lab, including date of birth, unless the Resident chooses to do so. Those who wish to be verified, but remain anonymous, are free to do so... US Residents will be asked to provide the last four digits of their Social Security Number, while non-US Residents may need to provide a passport or national ID number." An extensive Q&A is provided on the company's official blog.

This is a major move for Linden Lab, with major ramifications for Second Life residents, who up until this point have been enjoying a combination of Wild West meets Roman Orgy meets Sesame Street since 2003. Clearly this is an avenue the company was forced to take in light of the increasing public interest in its seedier side, catching the attention of The Authorities. It's not the direction founder Philip Rosedale, who has compared his virtual world to Burning Man, probably wanted to go. And it's not the direction a future "3D Web" would go. It's as if we woke up tomorrow and had to show our passports to the screen in order to surf Boing Boing, because the "Web Government" said so.

I'm particularly struck by Linden Lab's statement about users--not the company--being responsible for what happens in Second Life. Last time I checked, the company was still policing its virtual world for moral crimes such as harassment and nudity, and for business "crimes" such as trademark infringement. With this new wording, Linden Lab seems prepared to deflect administration and policing chores onto its users, who may not be ready for such a change--let alone be capable of monitoring their land 24/7 in case a visitor displays inappropriate content or behaves inappropriately.

Later this month, a cold, dry Second Life experience will replace the old, sloppy, Burning Man-style Second Life experience. Veteran users will find themselves barred from their favorite haunts. New users won't understand why they can't fly or walk from one store to another (more so than today). And while adult content in "safe" areas will never go away, at least Linden Lab has washed its hands of the entire, sordid mess.
Comment posted by csven
May 5, 2007 @ 11:25 am
This is why Second Life is so interesting. What videogame, MMORPG or other virtual space offers anything remotely like this?

Welcome to Clusterfuck 101.
Comment posted by Prokofy Neva
May 5, 2007 @ 1:23 pm
Here's what I'm wondering about:

It's one thing if something that has a name like XXX SEXXX PALACE GIRLZ BOYZ etc with traffic: 30,000 is now forced to have to card people. I *guess* that seems reasonable, if you are running a hard-core porn palace, that you have to prove you are 18 or over.

However, what happens on every other parcel where people think they are in their "private homes". Of course, Grid Shepherd teaches us incessantly there is "no such thing as privacy" and we knew that, but what the bots have to understand is that people *make* privacy anyway, even where it isn't -- apropos of your panel this weekend, Tony. People make intimacy and privacy out of ingredients that should entirely mitigate against such things -- anonymity and even a propensity for fraud.

So let's say I have a private island where a couple on what they think is their private parcel in their privacy home builds a BDSM dungeon in their basement and fools around. Now I, as the landowner, are responsible for their "adult activity". That is, I'm responsible for something that not only I can't police 24/7, but responsible for something that I'd have to find out about by entering into their home and intruding, by walking in my avatar or angling my camera around. And I'm going to have to card these people??!!

Or am I to bank on the Lindens' use of the phrase "explicit sex" to figure that no, they don't mean to chase people right into their homes.

If the distinctions of "M" and "PG" now go away, which were meaningful distinctions for the way people arranged land purchases and rentals all over, trying to put, say, art galleries in PG, and their cyber skyboxes in M, then now all of that is wiped away, and the owners are supposed to "just know" to click off "adult" on those areas that "deserve it". I can't imagine chasing thousands of tenants to see what they're up to -- and I won't be doing that.

Except, there's a ready way to grief me or any other "land baron". Whenever restrictions are made, just like the "swearing in PG" restriction, it is most used by those speciously using the lever to bang on people they don't like. It's like Angel Leviathan reporting the Barbie Club to Mattel to constantly harass and intimidate them with an alleged trademark violation (nothing came of it).

So now a whole new avenue for abuse reporting will be opened up especially on the mainland, and the Spite and Malice gang will go all over filing reports that hapless Lindens will be forced to follow up on, the way they did in the past when they got reports suddenly from enemies who would deliberately TP you into a PG zone and try to get you to swear, so as to report you.

One would hope the Lindens could sort through real reports from specious and malicious reports, but they won't be able to.

Some people keep multiple alts and they will not want to go to the bother of going to verify all their alts just to go on using them.

All of these transfers of responsibility -- like for handling abuse reports, or adult content, or ageplayers, or griefers, would make sense if we on the mainland in fact had full control of our land. We don't. And even on private islands, there are limits. People could have accepted shouldering these responsibilites if they also had the "host your own" status that would make sense to go with it. Having it a half-way house gives the residents all the responsibility with none of the real freedom.
Comment posted by Lucius Nesterov
May 7, 2007 @ 6:49 am
From reading the Linden Blog it seems that age verification is already used in the teen grid. So the only grid that anyone under 13 could access would be the main grid? The current policy is ridiculous.

The proposed system will in essence create the grid that many people asked for, with adult only areas, and PG areas where adults and children mix. Clearly this wasn't the intention, and I'm certain that age verification will be used across the whole grid eventually. LL opened up access to build momentum, and now they hope that people will put up with minor obstacles to sate their curiosity.

If the third party is your typical adult site age-verifier, then they may link varification in SL with varification for other adult sites (or offer their already varified customer base access to SL). This could have interesting effects, tying SL closer to hardcore materials, creating a larger market for explicit materials in SL etc.

As a final thought, I've noticed a lot more talk of 'third parties' in SL, from third party certification, third party varification and third party orientation. I wonder how this affects the open source drive. It might be a step in the right direction now, but too many invested parties could make open sourcing a threat. If I host my own grid do I have to use their age verification service?
Comment posted by Tony Walsh
May 7, 2007 @ 10:18 am
quoting Prokofy Neva: "...people *make* privacy anyway, even where it isn't -- apropos of your panel this weekend, Tony."

Yep, I'm giving that panel talk today, and will be discussing how users make privacy where it isn't and take privacy away where it is, regardless of how the system was designed.

quoting Lucius Nesterov: "I'm certain that age verification will be used across the whole grid eventually."

My understanding of the announcement was that age verification will touch the entire grid. Land owners across the grid will be obligated to flag their land "adult", based on American moral values. This is really going to gum up the grid, more than now, even with ban-lines everywhere. Age verification is only necessary to access "adult" land, but in a way verification is encouraged by the design of the system. If you want to be able to traverse the grid without teleporting, you'll get verified.
Comment posted by Brace Coral
May 9, 2007 @ 4:27 pm
Well now we all know WHY they scrapped this CYA thing together all of a sudden.

Should update this T-Dawg.
Choose yer poison: Herald, AvaTard, Brace Blog
Comment posted by csven
May 9, 2007 @ 7:34 pm
Yep. Sure seems like recent news explains things.
Comment posted by Tony Walsh
May 9, 2007 @ 8:47 pm
Thanks for the heads up Brace + csven--you guys are referring to today's news about the lack of contract between LL and its age verification provider, correct? The only update I could find on that was from Reuters. Just got home, missed this while I was out.
Comment posted by Brace Coral
May 10, 2007 @ 2:48 am
uhh noo

Try this

or mebbe this

too lazy to format etc
Comment posted by Tony Walsh
May 10, 2007 @ 8:37 am
Hmmm... seems like this German interest is just another high-profile blow to Second Life's morality squad. I'm sure the plans for the age-verification were in the works well before this news broke. On the other hand, based on what Reuters discovered, LL could have just farted out this crazy scheme in the last week.
Comment posted by Tony Walsh
May 10, 2007 @ 9:51 am
Ok, I posted my take on the situation, but didn't talk much about how it relates to age-verification. Thanks for the links, Brace!
Comment posted by Prokofy Neva
May 10, 2007 @ 10:54 am
Tony, LL has talked for ages about how they would create the means for land owners to verify their visitors. They always discussed this in terms of a boon that these adult cults would want to have to avoid having children access their content. They've discussed this for months, but perhaps didn't have all the details ironed out, who knows.
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