by Alphaville Herald on 25/02/11 at 1:40 pm
by Justine Babii
On July 30 of last year, a user known as Helena asked the SLUniverse forums the following question:
“I would just like to ask who is truly concerned about this product on Xstreet now more than ever. Please Lets not turn this into a big Slandering Debate, or a Flame, or /B/ Comments, but a real topic about who does, or does not like it.”
The ‘product’ she referred to was RedZone, and in both the subject line and her follow-up question, Helena clearly explained that RedZone might be a problem for SL users because it had the potential to reveal people’s alternate or alt accounts.
Helena was way ahead of the SL curve on what a hot button issue this would become, as discussion about RedZone and its new arch nemesis GreenZone has been burning up the Second Life blogs and forums for the past month.
The earliest replies to Helena’s query provide us with a classic snapshot of Second Life Culture, by the way. It took only 13 replies before a completely unrelated Lolcat picture was posted, and two of those replies consisted only of smiley animations. The response that got the most votes of agreement between the original question and the Lolcat was “Don’t Know, Don’t Care”
Eventually the reality of what RedZone could do sunk in, and 131 pages of replies later, Helena’s question seems to be answered- Second Life residents are unhappy with what RedZone has done to the landscape.
Fast forward to today, Friday, February 25, and you find a different world indeed. Just today, RedZone creator and spokesman zFire Xue has sent out a new version of his zRZ Hud which should assuage the privacy concerns of those made nervous by RedZone owners’ ability to scan avatars and summon a list of that person’s alleged alts. The newest version of the zRZ Hud will ask permission of those people who you seek to scan, just as the various vampire roleplay huds seek consent from those being bitten.
In Xue’s words, the move was made after negotiations with Linden Labs to address resident concerns. The following is quoted from the Mad Scientists, Inc Forums:
Hello RedZone owners.
After talking with Linden Labs over the past month we have reached an agreement.
Effective now and retroactively the RedZone system will request Consent to display alt name information.
LL policy will reflect this change by tomorrow the 25th.
The zRZ HUD will now request consent much like a bloodlines bite.
The zRZ Website now offers a system to send an IM to request consent for a zF RedZone Alt Background check.
The system is already in place, new functions and consent methods will be offered as we discover how best to implement this feature.
Linden Labs has been good enough to suggest many ideas that settled on this one.
Alt names can still be viewed to settle disputes, run security background checks etc. (With Consent)
Please see http://isellsl.ath.cx/checkconsentinfo.php for more.
The RedZone system has been, and always will be current with SecondLife(tm) terms of service.
I would like to thank Linden Labs for working with RedZone and providing enough time for RedZone to make these changes.
PS: Everything is still logged as before, everything still works as before.
Only now to view the alts you need consent.
Alts are still banable if they are related to a new user you do not want on your land.
Alts of people you banned are still banned, alts of copybots are still banned, alts of anyone you have banned are still going to be banned, just not named.
For those unfamiliar with this tale, in a nutshell the RedZone system is a security device that land owners can use to scan anyone who wanders into range of the RedZone device. The scanner takes advantage of the fact that Second Life’s streaming media option sends http requests from a user’s IP, and then ties that avatar name to that IP address in a database. Should any future requests from that IP address come from a different avatar, that new avatar is assumed to be an altenate or “alt” account of the original avatar that used that IP address.
Land owners with RedZone could then ban all avatars from a certain IP address. Store owners could catch not only the copybot, but the avatar that was simultaneously logged on issuing commands. This is the theory. The practice, as it turns out, was far different and it involves a Hud.
With landowners and shopkeepers buying RedZone and keeping it in place- under the radar and on their land for months before the average user caught on, the database of avatars and alts grew and grew. Then, RedZone released a Hud that would allow owners not only the ability to remotely turn on and off their RedZone device, but also to scan any avatars within 96m of themselves and see if that avatar had any alts in the system.
It was open season for alt outing, and the Second Life blogs went crazy.
On February 12, Second Life user Melita Magic posted a message in the Second Life discussion forums with the suggestion that she would like to be banned from all lands and shops that use RedZone, as she doesn’t intend to “spend a dime of my Linden dollar, or a second of my precious time on your shop, sim, land, roleplay zone or wherever you have this thing.” Melita went on to write a creed for the movement:
"I pledge not to use avatar scanners, which collate avatar names with IP and other personal information. I pledge not to support sims or stores that do." (Please consider adding this to your sigline or profile.)
Three hundred and thirty three replies later, the discussion goes on, though much of its energy has dispersed into several other threads about RedZone menace.
Come January, the Second Life community was in arms and ready to do battle. Scripters combined forces to create GreenZone and other tools to detect the RedZone scanner and advise residents to take evasive action. A Jira suggestion that RedZone violated the TOS swelled the ranks of voters and might prove to be the one bug report that finally gets the majority of SL users to understand the Jira system.
GreenZone is given away for free. But with this scandal, sadly, have come a number of opportunistic Second Lifers looking to make a dollar or two in the wake of RedZone. One service offers to protect your alts for L$1,200 while another outfit is setting textures you can use to advertise your land as RedZone free for L$2. RedZone itself has been, at least according to some of the blogs, an extremely profitable venture (think $17 US x 20,000+ units sold profitable). The damage it has caused to the trust that users have in their virtual world, however, may prove incalculable.
In the end, it was not the anti-griefer or anti-copybot usage that riled people, as those seem very secondary or tertiary to the issue, but rather the use of the scanner to detect people’s alts that got SL up in arms. The primary issue here is privacy, which, according Dusan Writer’s interview with LL CEO Rod Humble, is also in line with the Labs’current way of thinking;
Said Mr. Humble:
“It’s not unlike the persona I portray on Facebook I suppose. I mean, I’m very deliberate about what I post on Facebook. It’s a persona. I’m not sure it’s a construct, but it’s certainly an aspect of me.
Now, Second Life lets you really extend those dimensions, the ways you can show yourself.
I don’t want to get all geeky about it, but I sort of see this day coming when there’s a formalization of identity that happens. We haven’t had the tools before to formalize our broken up bits of identity.
See, there’s the me who goes to school meetings with my kids and that’s a very well established identity. And there’s the me who plays shooter games online and I don’t want those separate identities to mix up. It’s not appropriate.
We can increasingly go deep on each element of identity and they become more valuable and I can’t help thinking that if we formalize the structures around those identities and have the tools to do that it might actually change us – it might change the person.
The identity system itself influences the person.
From the sounds of it, the new RedZone limits will defang it to the point of the vampire huds. This is a good thing in my estimation, and something that should have been done in July when Helena was bringing this to the attention of the SLUniverse. If a user’s privacy is truly important to the Lab, then this exploit should have been dealt with ages ago, and if that’s not possible with current technological or budgetary limits, then a closer eye needs to be kept on groups and businesses that seek to exploit it.
There have been rampant stories on both sides of this issue, from “RedZone has been pulled from SL, no longer available!” to “The founder of GreenZone has been banned!” Taking RedZone from the superspy level to the vampire script level will be a good start in restoring peace to a troubled SL community.
The biggest problem remaining, aside from the inherent weakness in how SL does streaming media, is that the alt genie was already out of the bottle by the time that LL and the Second Life Community was aware of the problem, and the speculation and finger pointing that resulted from linking IP addresses to avatars could create ripples that will have effect long after RedZone agrees to play nice.
I believe that the security hole that is streaming media access could ultimately prove to be the black swan event that kills off interest in this virtual world once and for all. One bellwether I see here is influential blogger and longtime resident Ann Otoole who concluded her post on the topic by providing links to virtual worlds “where this type behavior is not tolerated.” There are many virtual worlds now, and if Rod Humble wants to keep us as paying customers, we will expect some service.
It would be bad enough if RedZone provided a rock solid list of alts. As it is, however, RedZone provided a list of alts based on IP address, which is not a reliable measure of identity.
This creates a climate of uncertainty and mistrust and fear above and beyond the normal paranoia and hall of mirrors feeling that Second Life and the culture of using alts to stalk people engenders under normal circumstances.
In my case for example, I purchased a RedZone system for the purpose of writing this article and fully expected that my alt, Debbie Delight, would be listed as my doppelganger. I created Debbie as part of an article I was writing for SLNN.com to test the new avatar creation system put forth by OnRez back in the day, and it was no secret that Debbie and I were the same people.
However, RedZone had a different view of me and listed a dozen or so other people as my alts, including the Herald’s Timothy Morpork, and my one actual alt, Debbie Delight was NOT on my list of alts. This quite freaked me out until I realized that our commonality was the vpn proxy server Jaime Wheeler had set up for the bloggers of SexySecond.com, for which we had all written.
If you and another Second Life avatar ever shared a wifi spot, or a workplace, or, on amassive scale- a proxy server, RedZone probably has them as your alts.
Regardless of the accuracy of the data, the Second Life community was becoming torn at the seams by the explosive revelations of the ability to scan people and discover their alts. It was my sad experience to be taunted about my alts in the comment section of this blog by Marx Dudek, or someone claiming to be Marx Dudek.
On Feb 15th, Marx Dudek wrote the following on the Herald comment section, in reply to a story I wrote about child avatars hitting on my friends:
Justine, my alt detector system tells me you do indeed have some friends you should write about.
This was an eye opener to me, because by that point I was already investigating RedZone, but I didn’t think that there would be people this low. I knew by then that my SexySecond coworkers were listed as my alts but I never suspected that anyone would actually think I could be all of those incredibly diverse peoples.
I also knew that just a week of so earlier, Marx had written a blog post in which he had lamented that the creator of RedZone wouldn’t vet the people purchasing it.
Marx said in his post, “There’s no vetting process on the part of the creator to make certain that this is only purchased by upstanding content designers wishing to protect their intellectual property, so that it won’t fall into the hands of those wishing to use it with malicious intent”. It is ironic that he – or someone using his name – did to me just that which he bemoaned.
In any case, effective today, if someone slimy wants to snoop around your avatar, their hud will have to ask your permission. That is, until the next scripter comes along and tracks the IP addresses of request to SL’s streaming media system to make an alt tracking tool. Of course if you wander onto land that has RedZone and you haven’t been properly warned by GreenZone, the landowner can see your alts.
To conclude this, I would like to use the incredibly prescient words of SLUniverse’s Helena, from July of 2010. Her ending question is pretty much what I want to know from Herald readers:
So in general, who doesn’t like this system now, because anyone can find out their alts, anyone feel that this isn’t right, and violates their Second Life rights?
Let me add, what will we do about it going forward?