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  Linden Lab Updates ‘Second Life’ User-Identification Methods  
Posted 2006-06-28 by Tony Walsh
Robin Harper, VP of Community Development for Linden Lab, has announced two interesting changes to how the company handles user data for its virtual world Second Life. The latest changes arrive on the heels of the company creating a barrier-free registration system, allowing users with no identifying information to enter the virtual world. Some residents complained that the barrier-free system was too porous, empowering anonymous troublemakers to disrupt Second Life, or allowing adult residents onto the so-called "Teen Grid" intended exclusively for 13-17 year-olds.

Linden Lab will now collect information about users' computers to create hardware profiles. "The point here is to allow us to verify a unique identity and therefore better contain griefing by multiple accounts from one system," wrote Harper on her blog Be The Change. "This information will not be available to non-Linden employees, and will only be available to Linden employees in an encrypted ('hashed') format." I'm not sure what Harper means by a "unique identity," but all this measure does is identify a unique computer, not a unique user. In some households, schools, and libraries, computers are shared between users. Cutting off a unique computer punishes all users of that computer, not just the troublemakers. Perhaps causing a little collateral damage is worth it if there are enough troublemakers.

New information will be included in the public profiles of Second Life residents, creating a form of systemic discrimination. Changes to be introduced today will let the entire virtual world know if you are willing or able to submit payment information to Linden Lab. Residents will be divided into three classes, according to Robin Harper:

No Payment Info on File - account was created with no credit card or Paypal
Payment Info on File - account has provided a credit card or Paypal
Payment Info Used - credit card or Paypal on account has successfully been billed

Harper wrote "This information is being provided so that other Residents will be able to see what degree of commitment you've made to the Second Life community, at least as it's expressed in your willingness to provide us with payment information." Personally, I don't think my payment status is anyone's business but mine and Linden Lab's. Harper says that "Future releases of Second Life will allow Residents to decide if they want to allow accounts which are essentially anonymous (no payment information given to us at registration except email address) to access their parcel." In other words, residents can be barred from areas of virtual land based on the size of their pocketbook (or whether they have a pocketbook at all). This may not be all that different from the real world, but it's unfortunate that the virtual world of Second Life has to have second-class citizens, too.

Update: Mark Wallace of offers his thoughts today on the registration changes.
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