SLStats: Is Big Brother Watch-ing?

by Alphaville Herald on 03/08/06 at 5:09 pm

by Pixeleen Mistral, Herald National Affairs desk

SNOOPYbrown’s closest friends: Nobody yet. Only people that you have hung out with for at least an hour are considered your friends.–

Snoopy reveals that SNOOPYbrown has no friends *sniff*

Poor, poor SNOOPYbrown Zamboni. Here it is August 1, 2006 and doesn’t think he has any friends! Won’t someone please, please help? Go get one of those cool new watch/scanner attachments from Mark Barrett, and get close to SNOOPY. You and SNOOPY will both benefit. You’ll show the world who you are close to in SL, score points for being down with one of the F.I.C., and SNOOPY will not look like such a sad-sack and loner. You want to share the good news with Teh IntarWeb, don’t you? You already trust Linden Labs with every detail of what your avatar does. Why not trust third-party Web sites as well?

Doing a search for my name in Google turned up the web site which publishes your friends in SL. SLStats thinks friends are anyone you have been within 20 meters of in SL for at least an hour. How does it gather this information? Watches. Mark Barrett has created a watch attachment that your avatar can wear, and when you do, the watch scans your surroundings to gather information on avatars within chat range. A skeptic might question how accurate this information is, since the site thinks I am Krisjohn Twin’s friend though I’ve never spoken to Krisjohn. Perhaps this information came from us both attending the Julian Dibbell interview event last week.


This fits the pattern of a number of Krisjohn’s “friends” having been near him for two hours and also at the Dibbell event. Of course, these are early days, and not much information has been gathered yet, but we can imagine how things will look going forward. This suggests that SL is a testing ground for at least one metaverse Total Information Awareness device. It will be interesting to see how well this sort of device/service is accepted by citizens if they become aware of it.

The site addresses the qualms of residents with both a privacy policy and a terms of service document. In a nutshell, these say if you don’t like it don’t use it. The service assumes that you want to be part of the monitoring campaign so if you have never heard of SLStats, you have automatically opted in. There are fascinating parallels here between SL and RL large scale automated information gathering on citizens. Should we give up privacy as part of a war on griefers? If griefers are the terrorists of SL, could we wage an even more effective war on griefers if we gathered even more information?

Here’s hoping that Mark Barrett can take this to the next level soon, and combine the spy watch with some sort of chat-spying attachment. Think of it: slightly improved spy watches sending even more information to third-party sites. In-world chat-spying attachments are already common enough that savvy SL residents self-censor what they say in chat, and have been known to resort to Yahoo! Instant Messenger or other out-of-world IM applications for some sort of privacy.

So, get happy! You are probably already sharing details of your SL experience. Google now makes it possible to find you not just on the Web but in SL as well. This will certainly improve the user experience for everyone. Privacy? We’ve heard of it.

5 Responses to “SLStats: Is Big Brother Watch-ing?”

  1. Lewis Nerd

    Aug 4th, 2006

    I appear on that list, simply by having been near someone wearing this device.

    My information is made available on a third party website without my consent, and I’m expected to sit back and be happy about it? No way.


  2. Prokofy Neva

    Aug 5th, 2006

    I urge you all to get a huge laugh and come look at my stats. You’ll find that my “friends” consist of my arch-enemies Aimee Weber and Cristiano Midnight, merely because they came to argue with me for an hour at a public discussion. My “friends” are merely tenants or completely unknown bystanders who happened to just be standing near me while I was AFK and didn’t notice about them or vise versa. None of it has any meaning, in the individual case.

    But it’s in the aggregate that these things because horribly intrusive. It’s not that you can grab so much individual personal data, it’s that in tanden with everything else you’ve grabbed, you can tell a lot about a person.

    Complete strangers to me, who didn’t opt into this system, are now findable in Google has having a rental in SL, and having a rental near other names. Perhaps this list now tells something about the company they keep they’d prefer not to have on the Internet. Why are their movements as avatars suddenly exposed to public discussion, merely for having come into my range because I wear this watch?

    I could take it off, but now I have no way of erasing anything on that page. The page isn’t under my control, it’s under the scrapers’ control.

    He can blendomatic this stuff forever and get all kinds of valueable commercial data:

    o where do people shop
    o who they congregate with
    o which people have compelling events, as shown by their audiences trailing along them on stats
    o who does what where for an hour or more
    o what sims are authentically high-traffic and not fake-high traffic. Fake high-traffic means random people just dancing or campign. Real high-traffic means various people spend an hour even if no camp chairs are present to lure them.
    o where do people live
    o mobile griefers

    It won’t be long before he figures out he can sell this information to people trying to figure out where to rent in malls or how to get traffic to their venues.

  3. Simon Lameth

    Aug 6th, 2006

    Login required!?!? Google’s cached page can take care of that.

  4. Cocoanut

    Aug 7th, 2006

    This sucks gigantically. I’m trying to figure out how to opt out now.


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