The Greed Shepherd

by prokofy on 09/04/07 at 8:12 pm

By Prokofy Neva, Corporate Watch

The Electric Sheep Company released for public beta testing a few hours ago a new search engine. The engine doesn’t contain things you’ve tagged, so it’s not like SLOOG or SL 411 or Babbage Linden’s engine or any one of a score of search engines depending on the community to fill it with items they want found which they opted into.

No, instead, an avatar owned and operated by the Sheep called “Grid Shepherd” (groan) has *already* scoured as many of SL’s 7800 sims as it could, collecting data about every single item set to sale in Second Life. Currently, it has 422,020 items to search from — including an expensive item that a Dreamland tenant discovered from my notice which was set to sale for cheap unwittingly; including televisions and pose balls still containing a sale price set out on numerous parcels of my rental lands which my tenants thought were fairly private; and revealing the names and creators of many yardsale objects that will expose their sellers to harassment from the vigilant and vindictive Sellers’ Guild.

The Sheep Search spells the end to privacy and the concept of private property that has profound consequences, even more profound than the hard-to-program and clunky CopyBot, something the Sheep never unambiguously condemned, because they, like other developers, hold the idea that “information wants to be free”. Why *my* information has to be free *for them to exploit* has always been a mystery to me; however, they evidently need to place knowledge and development over social and political concerns. In the mad race for the Soul of the New Machine Called the Metaverse, they need to develop the platform uber alles, regardless of the needs or wants of the people on it — with whom they have not consulted — and they need to be *the first* to get the coolest software out there for their clients — regardless of the impact that it has on the fragile inworld community of SL, which has already been deeply affected by the opening up of the platform to big-business and competitive commercial forces. In the name of serving abstraction of “The People” in providing a better search, they have done a disservice to real human beings who want their privacy intact.


If you had a TV out that automatically sets to $10 — anyone may come and steal it now by looking up the names of TV creators or creators of anything and p2ping right to them. That’s great for a store that has properly priced things and wants sales, but the greedy Grid Shepherd scours and scans and scrapes ALL data, not just data from stores and doesn’t discriminate.

If you have ANYTHING set to sale, accidently, or on purpose, anyone can find it, teleport to your land and buy it. That’s why when I type in my business name, I find dozens of properties with private homes showing all kinds of stuff the people don’t *realize* is set for sale — because often, when you take something out of the box it was sold in, or purchase it, the “for sale” function remains. Sometimes, people just have the virtual equivalent of a “Tupperware Party” — it’s quite common actually — and only invite close sets of friends over, and only sell to them, for all kinds of reasons. All of that social activity is now disrupted by this Eye in the Sky.


That’s why I call this avatar the Greed Shepherd. He’s scouring the land to pick up YOUR private data from YOUR private property. And while the service is to be “free,” what it does is enhance the reputation of the Electric Sheep, drive people to their website, and position them as being “the most innovative” with “the most cutting-edge technology” so they can get even more clients and make even more millions.

That’s what capitalism is all about. I applaud capitalism, the free market, and free development of platforms. In real life, however, we have many democratically-instituted checks and balances on capitalism even in our democratic capitalist societies that keep them from doing harm not only to privacy, but small business and communities. These checks and balances in the wierd virtuality of SL aren’t in place, and the laissez-faire Lindens have usually never even thought of them: they never met a script they didn’t like.


Just as with Mark Barrett’s which scraped information about proximate avatars at first against their will, and with Rathe Underthorn, concerns about privacy and data scraping have been met by some tekkies with a big sneer and scornful derision about our privacy concerns. We’re told we’re “on the Internet” and to stuff it. We’re told this ESC invention is like Google or Yahoo and we need to “get over it” if we think we have any shred of privacy left.

But wait just a minute here. Google and Yahoo scrape information out of 2-D webpages, and scrape pictures and text only. They don’t take the contents of your refrigerator, nightstand, and desk, and dump them out on the Internet for everyone to paw and even buy merely because they have price tags left on them. Second Life is a streaming world with people in it, in their totality, immersed. Google has the artifacts of people — their text and pictures. BIG difference in the way in which scraping will be apprehended, and developers simply need to understand that.

People don’t have sex inside Google. They don’t have lives and work and relationships on Google. Google scrapes data from public 2-d webpages — text and pictures — and makes them searchable against your will, too — but you understand in a set of social circumstances and unwritten and written convention that you make anything put on a website anywhere searchable unless locked or password-protected. But in Second Life, you have the emulation of privacy when you buy PRIVATE PROPERTY which you can set on ban, or prevent people from entering — and you have a set of expectations about it. Grid Shepherd’s all-seeing, greedy eye, however, can scrap your land even if you banned him, in fact, because no doubt he can function on a radius of 96m2. Just as anyone can buy something off land from which they are banned from using camera zoom, there’s no real protection from Grid Shepherd.


It’s like merchandising gone mad, the ultimate “interaction with the brand” that is bringing us toxic immersion in corporate greed. Everything is for sale. Every aspect of ourselves. Virtual worlds appear to have been *made for* scraping our sales data, making everything we have and are, about buying and selling. How prescient humdog was with her “Pandora’s Vox” in 1994 reprinted in the Herald.

Why do I call this “greed,” if it’s a free service, you ask? Because it’s greed to be the first with the SEARCH. Whoever wins the SEARCH wins not only SL, but virtual worlds — period. Because the dirty little secret about them, as I explained, isn’t just what There’s Michael Wilson said about them — that there’s nothing going on inside them. It’s that you can’t FIND the stuff you need or the people you need to having something go on WITH. You can find it well enough, actually in Second Life with the existing search functions, combined with traffic ratings, but it takes some learning. It’s a social context. And things like Grid Shepherd, while ostensibly making the social media MORE social, in fact invades privacy and crosses the line. The line that people set everywhere, in RL and SL is: opt-in.


This isn’t opt-in. The page offering opt-in is put up AFTER your data was scraped. And it’s ineffective, as Grid can be banned but can still scrape in a radius. You can opt out your stuff, as a creator or owner, but you can’t get him OFF YOUR LAWN.

Get offa ma lawn, Grid Shepherd!

From scraping items for sale, ESC and its ambitious developers will easily skip on to *any* item and any parcel of land. That means all your private data that you believe is private because it’s in your home, your workshop, you land is now public. Anything rezzed is now freely vulnerable pray to giant scouring machines that grab it all and make use of it, first and foremost not for the public good, but to enhance their reputation merely as the makers of such an engine, and to drive shoppers, visitors, business to their site and their brand.


Google is also notorious for rewarding bad behaviour. There’s no telling what might end up in Google because it’s whatever is clicked on the most — engendering more mindless and stupid clicking. There’s no judgement, even by the crowd. That’s why Babbage’s tool, that enabled you to CHOSE what you wanted to be found AND rate it, is so much better as a search concept. It means human judgement, not mindless artificial intelligence and arrogant coders’ coding rules. It means a world that grows with folksonomy, not the taxsonomy of unfeeling coders. It has its drawbacks too, because the mob can game it and flash it and artificially pump and dump. But it is the more preferable option.

Many arrogant types are already arguing on various lists that the Sheep search is a good thing for stores — so those of us with concerns about privacy should shut up. But…some stores are still in the process of selling to smaller audiences, not the whole Internet. A person trying to price an object, new to the market, can’t test it with his targeted ads — now the Machine can just come and buy it. Many, many objects will be stolen now in the coming weeks as people who put things out on $0 accidently, or intentionally only for a close-by friend or neighbour, find it disappear to unscrupulous teleporters.


Only after the fact, by word of mouth, do we learn that this search was created by Grid Shepherd physically coming and scanning our parcels. We didn’t get advance notice to ban him if we didn’t wish to be scraped; only now do we find out, when the damage is done.

An opt-out gives us only the option to have objects we’ve created taken out; it doesn’t give us the option to have *our land* taken out of the scraper’s view. That’s what we need. The ability to make ourselves immune from scraping, given the overreach or the scrapers.

I feel the only right thing to do with this monster is to close it, dump its data, and start over by announcing that all those who wish to opt in can permit Grid Shepherd to come on their land – by not banning him. Proper public notice should be given to the community of Second Life that all objects on all parcels set to sale by accident or design are now going into a giant data base. That gives people time to adjust their behaviour and figure out what among their private items they want publicized now.

I think questions need to be raised with the ESC and with the Lindens about how one avatar is able to scrape the whole of SL –as this will grow to be more of a problem not less, with the ability of the Sheep and other developers to use LSL and their own technology to make bots that scrape information on anything under the artificial Linden sun.


What is the LSL command that is being used? I’m told by Forseti Svarog that no special LSL command was used. But surely there is some special command, designed by Sheep and enabled or at least tacitly tolerated by LL that enables the bot-run avatar Grid Shepherd to race all over SL automatically scraping data from parcels about what is for sale and feeding it to a web-page data-base.

The function is likely now proprietary and copyrighted or secret — but is that appropriate, to give one company the right to scrape all the information off the grid?!


There are also profound political questions that everyone on the grid should be encouraged to discuss and participate in. Why does one company feted for years by Linden Lab get to change the nature of the world so profoundly without our consent? Is this the Snowcrash concept of the franchulate, Mr. Lee’s Hong Kong?

That has *always* been my concern about LL and its sherpa friends, who began as the Feted Inner Core. I’ve always proclaimed: “Nothing about us/without us”. We don’t have any avenues to be involved in the decisions made by a private company. Many would claim we shouldn’t have any such avenues. Yet…those private companies have PROFOUND and sometimes DRAMATIC effects on our lives in virtual worlds — and now in the real world increasingly merging with the reality of virtuality. It’s no different than the issue of transnational corporations across frontiers in real life.


I believe that SEARCH is a public good. It’s like a public utility in RL — like water, or electricity. It should not be come the provenance of any one company, any one developer or commercial interest. It must continue to remain in the hands of the “federal government,” LL, at least until they open source all their features. Any one company grabbing search grabs eyeballs, traffic to their website — and does it without our consent. I’m known for saying we will all become roadkill on the way to these developers’ developing the platform and software for their use, which involves its sale and sale of their services. I fail to see why all the information I have available on a sim I purchased suddenly can be grabbed away from me and used by another business.

Currently, the Lindens’ search through their client costs $30 to opt-in or $50 to go in classifieds. Nothing the Lindens have made can scrape *for public consumption* although their own servers scrape data and publish it in aggregate on their statistics page. Third-party developers cannot be relied upon to observe such proprieties.

When any one company can do the same thing — scrape avatars’ data not only for public consumption but for private benefit — they have an unfair advantage.

The community responded to Mark Barrett’s and Rathe Underthorn’s land business unequivocally: they signalled loud and clear that any scrapers MUST have opt-in — not as an afterthought, not as an add-on AFTER you’ve scraped, but from the beginning.

Yes, it means for greedy developers that they don’t get to populate their data base as fully as they like. Let them think of their long-term relationship with the human beings they’ve exploited in this fashion — they are their future customers, and already the current customers in RL of their clients in Second Life.

115 Responses to “The Greed Shepherd”

  1. Gradius Avatar

    Apr 12th, 2007

    Prokofy, SL is a COMPUTER GAME, despite the Lindens’ claims to the contrary. People log in to play D&D and make stupid gravity-defying houses and flirt with people and generally fuck around. You take it so seriously it’s tragic.

    Who cares if some software knows what stupid pixels you’re selling in your stupid pixel house? It’s the FUCKING INTERNET, NOT REAL LIFE.

  2. Hazim Gazov

    Apr 12th, 2007

    BAWWWWWWWWWWWW, the internet is serious business, don’t delete comments, kthx.

  3. Hazim Gazov

    Apr 12th, 2007

    Also, I am Plastic Duck. Just putting it out there.

  4. urizenus

    Apr 12th, 2007

    1) posts that spoof other people will be deleted unless it is clearly satire.

    2) posts that are well intentioned but are responding to spoofed comments will probably be deleted too — especially if they contain attributions from spoofed post.

    3) racist shit that annoys me will probably be deleted if I see it.

  5. Hazim Gazov

    Apr 12th, 2007

    Ok, I won’t be racist anymore, I’m such a bix nood >.<. But seriously, I’m Plastic Duck.

  6. Prokofy Neva

    Apr 12th, 2007

    urizenus, you forgot one more rule about posts.
    4.) Anybody that has an opinion will have their post deleted.

  7. Cocoanut Koala

    Apr 12th, 2007

    Good, Uri. I was hating those comments about Jews.


  8. Prokofy Neva

    Apr 12th, 2007

    Uri, those sound like good rules to me. I’m all for them. In fact they help make free speech possible by not driving people away. That last comment signed “Prokofy Neva” at 10:43 PM is spoofing me so please ban that IP.

  9. wtf

    Apr 12th, 2007

    Deleting posts = free speech?


    Prokofy, please, for your own sake, think before you type.
    You come off as more and more of a raving lunatic as you go on.

    Look up free speech, do some research. GET OFF THE INTERNET AND LEARN SOMETHING.

  10. Mitchell Henderson

    Apr 13th, 2007

    Prokofy helped MONGO do 9/11.

    I’d like to add that nothing I’ve written “crosses any lines”. I write the truth about a 40-year-old virgin with sand (and by the looks of it, white phosphorous as well) in her vagoo and a really advanced case of AIDS from the Habbo swimming pool conspiring with a fascist Wikipedia moderator to destroy the twin towers.

  11. Artemis Fate

    Apr 13th, 2007

    Course, the Irony/hypocrisies aren’t lost on me when a guy who screamed for something like 100 posts on the SLCC one about the injustice of a theoretical banning is suddenly pro banning for saying things here.

  12. Sophia Tantalus

    Apr 13th, 2007


    I’d just like to (politely) point out that you are mixing up patent rights and copyright. Patents would cover software processes, whereas Copyright covers writing, art, and other “original creative works.” Linden labs has clearly made an effort to protect intellectual property rights in SL by writing in protections for objects.

    Your quote:

    “You also understand and agree that by submitting your Content to any area of the Service, you automatically grant (or you warrant that the owner of such Content has expressly granted) to Linden Lab and to all other users of the Service a non-exclusive, worldwide, fully paid-up, transferable, irrevocable, royalty-free and perpetual License, under any and all patent rights you may have or obtain with respect to your Content, to use your Content for all purposes within the Service.”

    DOES not say that you give up your patent rights. It simply says you grant a perpetual license to LL and it’s users. Whole different thing- it is written to protect LL from getting hit with lawsuits over licensing fees for software invented in SL. You can sell your scripts- but you can’t license them annually.

    Here’s a clarification post from the Knowledge Base:

    “In Second Life, subject to certain licenses in the terms of service, you retain the intellectual property rights you may have in your content, including copyrights. “Intellectual property rights” are completely separate to the rights of ownership of data – the bits and bytes that reside on our servers. In order for us to provide the service of Second Life at a reasonable cost, we must retain the right to own what we physically own or control – the server infrastructure, including the data on it. But ownership of bits and bytes of data does NOT by itself give Linden Lab the right to publish or distribute your copyrighted material.” ( )

    The appropriate TOS snippet (with >>emphasis>as permitted by you through your interactions on the Service,> use and reproduce (and to authorize third parties to use and reproduce) any of your Content in any or all media for marketing and/or promotional purposes in connection with the Service, provided that in the event that your Content appears publicly in material under the control of Linden Lab, and you provide written notice to Linden Lab of your desire to discontinue the distribution of such Content in such material (with sufficient specificity to allow Linden Lab, in its sole discretion, to identify the relevant Content and materials), Linden Lab will make commercially reasonable efforts to cease its distribution of such Content following the receipt of such notice, although Linden Lab cannot provide any assurances regarding materials produced or distributed prior to the receipt of such notice; >Further, you agree to grant to Linden Lab a royalty-free, worldwide, fully paid-up, perpetual, irrevocable, non-exclusive, sublicensable right and license to exercise the copyright, publicity, and database rights you have in your account information, including any data or other information generated by your account activity, in any media now known or not currently known, in accordance with our privacy policy as set forth below, including the incorporation by reference of terms posted at< <

    [Again- this is LL rights- NOT ESC rights- and is written to cover their ability to duplicate content in other formats. See how authors sued over this issue:

    As for data just being data- nope. Any original creative expression represented in data is subject to copyright laws- in fact, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act was created just for “data.” See:
    Copybot, for example, was a DMCA violation given that it circumvented the digital rights management (DRM) system inherent in SL.

    By these standards, ESC is not (yet) violating intellectual property rights, as all they are doing is duplicating facts.
    What Grid Shepard is doing is invading people’s privacy. The question is, do we have a reasonable expectation of privacy in SL?

    These portions of the TOS seem more applicable:

    In addition to abiding at all times by the Community Standards, you agree that you shall not: (i) take any action or upload, post, e-mail or otherwise transmit Content that infringes or violates any third party rights; … (iii) take any action or upload, post, e-mail or otherwise transmit Content that violates any law or regulation; (iv) take any action or upload, post, e-mail or otherwise transmit Content as determined by Linden Lab at its sole discretion that is harmful, threatening, abusive, harassing, causes tort, defamatory, vulgar, obscene, libelous, invasive of another’s privacy, hateful, or racially, ethnically or otherwise objectionable;… (vii) upload, post, email or otherwise transmit any unsolicited or unauthorized advertising, or promotional materials, that are in the nature of “junk mail,” “spam,” “chain letters,” “pyramid schemes,” or any other form of solicitation that Linden Lab considers in its sole discretion to be of such nature;

    So- apparently it is at LL’s discretion to decide if Grid Shepard invades our privacy by being opt-out rather than opt-in. And I don’t think this was the kind of unauthorized advertising they were thinking of :)

    And no- I’m not a lawyer so I could be talking out my ass. I’m sure no one here will hesitate to inform me if that’s so. :)

  13. Mem

    Apr 13th, 2007

    Actually I never expressed an opinion as to copyrights or patents, merely that what ESC has done is not only within the frame work of the current TOS but is expressly allowed.

    From section 4.2 of the TOS – “Notwithstanding the foregoing, you may use and create software that provides access to the Servers for substantially similar function (or subset thereof) as the Viewer; provided that such software is not used for and does not enable any violation of these Terms of Service.”

    in conjunction with,

    from 3.1 (I think) of the TOS- “You also understand and agree that by submitting your Content to any area of the Service, you automatically grant (or you warrant that the owner of such Content has expressly granted) to Linden Lab and to all other users of the Service a non-exclusive, worldwide, fully paid-up, transferable, irrevocable, royalty-free and perpetual License, under any and all patent rights you may have or obtain with respect to your Content, to use your Content for all purposes within the Service.”

    Seems to cover any concerns in regards to the search feature ESC has come up with, in fact with both sections seen in conjunction it seems LL expressly allows this sort of third party feature.

  14. Zorro

    Apr 14th, 2007

    Folks, I’m an absolute outsider here. I’ve spent maybe 4 hours in SL,
    but hundreds of hours in virtual simulations. I’ve been coding for decades
    and I’m firmly in the camp of ‘there are no code protections that can not
    be broken…’. Enough about me.

    With that said, it seems to me that the salient issues here are about
    privacy and to a much greater degree at the moment intellectual property
    rights. Oh, yea and money and lots of it. Oh, and did I mention lawyers?
    (I meant to mention lawyers…) Lots of them too.

    What I see is that LL is the first (noticeable) entity to even PRETEND to
    offer IP rights to it’s users. To even PRETEND to offer PROPERTY rights
    to it’s users. To even PRETEND to do so on a contractual basis. This at
    the least creates an EXPECTATION in the user base of such. Further,
    the relative success of the experiment (IMNSHO SL is at this stage an
    experiment…) shouldn’t be ignored. If this expectation is not met
    (due to a bad decisions involving short term gain, or perhaps overeager
    associates?) the current experiment will crumble.


    (I mean get a grip, take away ‘value’ of the ‘product’ the client is
    paying for and it will be over…)

    And when (not if) this happens there will be a MUCH more savvy bunch
    come right in behind them (before the dust even settles) that will take
    their shot at this and most likely they won’t make THIS stupid mistake.
    They will make different stupid mistakes, oh well…

    On what evidence do I base this? Simply the numbers. The numbers boys
    and girls. Several thousand people online 24/7 worldwide in such an
    interface has MASSIVE potential that has not even been scratched yet.

    BTW, this argument over is there a difference between SL (or whatever 3D)
    and web pages at MySpaced is just ridiculous. Have any of you here heard of
    something called the future? How about tomorrow? Maybe you’ve heard of that?

    Hey I understand about bytes are bytes, and even what ‘content’ really means.
    (I’m not THAT fucking old…)

    And unless you are locked away in a lab at CISCO or the like I don’t see
    why you aren’t clear on the relevant paradigm. (you data is friking data
    kids don’t sound like you are at all down with that to me.. but that of
    course is my take from the wilderness..)

    But the people sending in the $9.95 a month aren’t buying bytes or ‘content’
    not matter how much you kids want to delude your selves to the contrary.

    Everybody knows exactly where to get enough bytes and ‘content’ to choke on.

    If LL fails to grasp this (no one on the planet can be that stupid right?
    well on the other hand look at the ‘current occupant’, doesn’t have the
    brains God gave shit, so I guess it’s possible.. but I digress..)

    Ok, I mean ANYONE who fails to grasp this is working in a different business
    model. Which is fine. But they damn sure will not have a future in THIS
    business model. (it’s kind of analogous to the idea that pattern matching
    does not a virus protection make, ok? oh, yea, well not for long it won’t
    just watch and see..)

    Ok, I’m done. Sorry to bore you…

  15. Topamax bulimia.

    Topamax tegretol. No change in appetite on topamax. Topamax ortho mcneil.

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