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Privacy in Second Life: Varieties, Issues, and Solutions


Scylla Rhiadra
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So, maybe we can try this again.

Privacy is something that we all, to some degree, value in Second Life. Whether it is simply being able to insulate ourselves from those we don't want to associate with, or engage in activities that, for whatever reason, we'd prefer were not common knowledge.

Privacy is also a factor relating this virtual platform with RL: most of us keep at least some separation between RL and SL precisely because we want our second lives to be, to some degree, "private" and separate from our RLs. (And vice versa, of course.)

The platform provides a great many tools that can be used to ensure at least some degree of privacy, both in-world, and in terms of "leakage" between SL and RL. But clearly there are many who feel that these are insufficient.

So, let's start from a given: there is no such thing as "perfect" privacy on a social platform.

However, the degree to which we, and our activities, are exposed to others (and, again, vice versa) exists on a spectrum: one can be more, or less, private in Second Life.

What are threats to privacy in SL? And what are potential, or even just partial, solutions to these that might be of assistance to those who want more privacy?

Needless to say, let's be civil to each other, express our disagreements in ways that contribute to the discussion, etc., etc., etc.

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One interesting question that occurs to me -- at one point does someone's pursuit of "privacy" carry a social cost?

One extreme of privacy, for instance, is to have an entirely blank profile. But we all know that people are much less likely to engage with someone who has no pic, and empty SL / FL tabs. The assumption often is that this is a throw-away account or, worse, a griefer.

What's the social threshold for privacy? When does one become essentially an outcast for wanting it?

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8 minutes ago, Scylla Rhiadra said:

When does one become essentially an outcast for wanting it?

I don't see it as an outcast thing. I'm reclusive in both RL and SL because I want to think my own thoughts, not fit in with the current mood of one or more people. I don't feel at all that I'm an outcast because of that.

The only privacy that's hard to maintain in SL is the ability of anybody to cam in on you, and to be honest, I'm not so creeped out by that as some of my friends are, but I think this is an essential difference between men and women.

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The only privacy that I think should be expected is RL privacy and that is up to each individual to protect.

As far as everything else goes, one should expect no privacy whatsoever, except when on your own land that you pay for, depending on where you choose to purchase that land, and there are still measures that you need to take to insure that privacy. Obviously there is less privacy if you buy a mainland parcel or chose to live in a Linden home

If you want total privacy then buy private land from LL and lock it down. 

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I think that online and in social media generally people put themselves at risk by exposing their RL name, location, job information and personal details. I don't do those "fun" questionnaires that ask random questions to give your fictional name or lump you into some kind of category, because your pet's name or the street you grew up on could be security questions somewhere. I generally avoid using my RL name or picture online or in SL, though I don't mind telling people what city I live in because it's a big city and I have a common first name, so it would be hard to identity me with just that information.

I like to profile myself with my SL profile and like to look at other people's to figure out something of what they're like. If someone doesn't fill out their profile at all I assume they're either not smart enough, too boring, or too paranoid to warrant my further attention. If they happen to have an interesting conversation with me, then I'll re-evaluate my view of them. 

I don't mind being cammed on and do cam on other people sometimes, but I figure as long as nobody says anything about it, then it didn't happen. I do think it's extremely rude to cam on someone while their avatar is naked or dressing and then IM them to say they look hot or whatever. Because we don't have real privacy for our avatars in SL, I think this requires of us the social nicety of pretending that we have such privacy.

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1 hour ago, Profaitchikenz Haiku said:

I don't see it as an outcast thing. I'm reclusive in both RL and SL because I want to think my own thoughts, not fit in with the current mood of one or more people. I don't feel at all that I'm an outcast because of that.

As a self-admitted recluse, then, you don't mind the "social cost" of your privacy, because it's not a cost but rather the desired end. You're not an outcast so much as a hermit.

I guess my question, though, would be how others perceive that kind of behaviour, without regard to your own feelings. Do you think it impacts how others feel about, or respond to you?

And maybe the other interesting question: what affordances do you use to maintain your isolation? "Busy" messages for IMs for instance? Do you hide our online status?

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2 hours ago, Scylla Rhiadra said:

So, maybe we can try this again.

Privacy is something that we all, to some degree, value in Second Life. Whether it is simply being able to insulate ourselves from those we don't want to associate with, or engage in activities that, for whatever reason, we'd prefer were not common knowledge.

Privacy is also a factor relating this virtual platform with RL: most of us keep at least some separation between RL and SL precisely because we want our second lives to be, to some degree, "private" and separate from our RLs. (And vice versa, of course.)

The platform provides a great many tools that can be used to ensure at least some degree of privacy, both in-world, and in terms of "leakage" between SL and RL. But clearly there are many who feel that these are insufficient.

So, let's start from a given: there is no such thing as "perfect" privacy on a social platform.

However, the degree to which we, and our activities, are exposed to others (and, again, vice versa) exists on a spectrum: one can be more, or less, private in Second Life.

What are threats to privacy in SL? And what are potential, or even just partial, solutions to these that might be of assistance to those who want more privacy?

Needless to say, let's be civil to each other, express our disagreements in ways that contribute to the discussion, etc., etc., etc.

The only thing I'm dissatisfied with is that I can't use a standard facepalm emoji.

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14 minutes ago, Scylla Rhiadra said:

Do you think it impacts how others feel about, or respond to you?

No idea, nobody's ever said anything about it. :)

 

14 minutes ago, Scylla Rhiadra said:

And maybe the other interesting question: what affordances do you use to maintain your isolation? "Busy" messages for IMs for instance? Do you hide our online status?

None. I'm always ready to hear a question, I just don't go seeking them.

Location and behaviour patterns probably dictate what one requires by way of privacy anyway. I wouldn't go to a club, for example, because standing silently in the midst of a throng of hail-fellow-well-met people would be off-putting to them. Going back to your initial point, privacy in SL is generally easier to maintain than in RL, where people knock on your door because they're lost, or the phone rings and it's a wrong number, these are unavoidable, whereas in SL you can ignore or even feign a crash to desktop to avoid unwanted contact.

I suspect most of the annoyances people in SL class as invasion of privacy are more like offended sensibillities, the issues abut cross-hairs is a classic one. These can all be minimised by examining what you do and how you do it. Choose where you go, choose who your friends are, choose what you make yourself available for, and try not to react immediately when something unexpected crops up.

Edited by Profaitchikenz Haiku
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7 minutes ago, Scylla Rhiadra said:

As a self-admitted recluse, then, you don't mind the "social cost" of your privacy, because it's not a cost but rather the desired end. You're not an outcast so much as a hermit.

I guess my question, though, would be how others perceive that kind of behaviour, without regard to your own feelings. Do you think it impacts how others feel about, or respond to you?

And maybe the other interesting question: what affordances do you use to maintain your isolation? "Busy" messages for IMs for instance? Do you hide our online status?

I'm going to go ahead and answer even though your questions were directed at @Profaitchikenz Haikuas I'm also more of a recluse in SL.

I don't know how others perceive me but I see others who are like me and realize I'm not alone.  There are plenty of places for me to socialize when I am in the mood to do so.  It's usually the same 5-10 places so when I do return, people often ask how I've been since they hadn't seen me in awhile.  The few friends on my list know how I am so they may poke my IM just to check in.  I'll rarely be the one to initiate contact with friends because I assume people like their privacy, too.  

My home is set so no one can see in.  Pretty much.the extent of what I or anyone without a full region can do as far as visual privacy.  I suppose if I had an enormous friend list, I'd go ahead and set to Busy if needed.

So, if home, I like to be left alone.  If out, I'm more than happy to.chat with just about anyone...even if they are relentlessly camming my avatar.  😅

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I am a huge mixer of both lives.  I even use my real life first name in here.  (Don't laugh. I have hippie parents.)  My profile states my time zone and country, so people know approximately where I live, but if asked, I give out the state I live in, as well.  I have a real life picture, because I don't care if someone sees it.  Besides, you might as well know I am probably older than you, but I don't expect anyone to believe me.  Not my problem if someone does or doesn't.  I have met several people inworld that now share my real life.

Inworld I do not expect most kinds of privacy.  I would expect a private IM is not hijacked by anyone other than the intended recipient.  If I take my avatar away from an area where I am alone to an area with other avatars, I expect I will be seen and cammed.  If I chose a public adult romance region, I would expect to be seen being romantic and to see others in turn.  I know the lab has access to my TPs, movements, chats logs, account, and history.

Basic steps I take for a small amount of safety:  I turned of automatic streaming of music and media and turn it on manually when needed for music or lecture venues.  I don't use any streaming media at all on any of my parcels.  I don't click random links from others.  I know the tools available to me to prevent most harrassment - blocking/muting, derender, movelock, sitting to prevent orbiting and such. If I don't want to be seen, I leave populated areas.  There are soooooo many absolutely empty open regions to visit.  If the lab is collecting data for some reason, I guess that's not a big deal either, but they have been pretty consistent with telling us what data they collect.  If some bad actor is trying to collect data from my avatar inworld, I don't think I would know it was happening.  I change my password often and I don't share it except for with a trusted family member who, if I suddenly die, has permission to log in and drop my accounts to basic, remove payment info, and tell people I am gone from the earth.  It will probably be something like, "Cinnamon was eaten by a shark when she was cleaning the tank yesterday.  She went out smiling and hugging the shark. She has recycled her energy back into the universe."

I do not use any kind of security anywhere.  No orbs or ban lines.  I've never banned anyone from my land.  (I would. I just have never needed to.).  You can see and chat with avatars on my parcels.  All my parcels have free rez with 5 minute auto return and no object entry.  My doors are unlocked.  I choose not to see mine or others lookats.  I just assume others look at me as often as I cam around areas and enjoy avatar watching myself.  I will read your profile and hope you take the time to at least glance at mine before shooting me an IM with "hi"

I spend most of my time alone by choice lately, but I do occasionally feel like being social and will go to clubs or dance venues and pick up random folks.  Watch out - social Cinnamon can be a whirlwind of hyperactivity and chatter.  I am just not that worried about my security inworld.  I feel safe enough to return regularly.  Fear of getting hacked has never really entered my mind enough to impact the time I spend inworld or what I choose to do when I'm there.  Perhaps ignorance is bliss in my case.

I don't pursue privacy, so there is zero social cost.

Edited by Cinnamon Mistwood
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I'm not much of a crowd person, so I don't go looking for places in SL where I can be around a lot of other people.  I'm not aiming for privacy but for solitude.  I spend most of my in-world time wandering or creating things solo.  I expect civility and respect.  The only times when I feel truly uncomfortable are when I get rudeness or disrespect instead, so I don't mind people being curious about what I'm doing or wearing but I am annoyed (or worse) when someone is prying. I don't ask other people about their lives outside SL, and I tell them only the few vague things that I care to share about myself.  Again, it's not so much about privacy; it's about preferring to be alone most of the time and wanting people to respect that. I don't use a security system and I have banned almost nobody in 15 years, but I would never own a home on the Mainland where I had to think about those things either.

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3 hours ago, Scylla Rhiadra said:

So, maybe we can try this again.

Privacy is something that we all, to some degree, value in Second Life. Whether it is simply being able to insulate ourselves from those we don't want to associate with, or engage in activities that, for whatever reason, we'd prefer were not common knowledge.

Privacy is also a factor relating this virtual platform with RL: most of us keep at least some separation between RL and SL precisely because we want our second lives to be, to some degree, "private" and separate from our RLs. (And vice versa, of course.)

The platform provides a great many tools that can be used to ensure at least some degree of privacy, both in-world, and in terms of "leakage" between SL and RL. But clearly there are many who feel that these are insufficient.

So, let's start from a given: there is no such thing as "perfect" privacy on a social platform.

However, the degree to which we, and our activities, are exposed to others (and, again, vice versa) exists on a spectrum: one can be more, or less, private in Second Life.

What are threats to privacy in SL? And what are potential, or even just partial, solutions to these that might be of assistance to those who want more privacy?

Needless to say, let's be civil to each other, express our disagreements in ways that contribute to the discussion, etc., etc., etc.

From my nearly 18 years of experience as a landlord in the virtual world of Second Life, I can tell you that no amount of heckling, browbeating, education, persuasion, derision, pleading or anything whatsoever will dissuade people of their need for privacy, especially during dressing and during sexual activities. They want this privacy; they should get it. They shouldn't get it at the expense of other people's freedoms, but then there isn't a freedom to barge into people's homes and harass them during privacy moments -- that's criminal activity. So virtual worlds need to accommodate these real and substantive and deserved customer requirements.

This is hard-wired by some sort of evolutionary and biological process; I am not a scientist so I can't speak to the mechanisms of this fact, but THAT it is a fact is something I witness daily in SL, especially for men, not women, as it happens. How can you tell the difference in SL? Because men and women exhibit the same inherent, evolutionary, biological behaviours online in virtuality that they do in RL. So the male will walk around the periphery of a rental to examine it; the female will sit down inside the house to see how it feels. It doesn't matter if both are wearing robot carboard carton avatars; these behaviours will out.

They may have their root in the need for males to ensure that their offspring are really theirs, and not a stranger's, as they bind these issues with historical notions of property, viewing the females and their offspring as their property. It doesn't matter; the needs and behaviours persist in RL today despite all kinds of advances in societies and they must be heeded.

Yes, fast forward to real virtual life, and these inherent traits of course no longer make sense as you can buy prim or animesh babies now. But basically, it's the male of the partnership that wants to ensure that no curious outsider watches him having sex with his partner. The female may also not wish to have outsiders barge in but the male will become more irrationally angry if he can't secure this context, in my experience. You may disagree, but you won't persuade me otherwise based on my experience with tens of thousands of customers over the years. This is how it is. Ignore these realities, and you don't have customers. 

Hence the security orbs of SL. People want them to work heartily, and they want people to TP the miscreants home, like defeated enemies in a war game, because that's how the dynamics work, for evolutionary reasons.

Of course here the need for privacy and security trumps other people's need for freedom of movement, including just flying to their own home, or looking around a pretty area even owned by the Lindens which is now subject to an over-active security device. So that's why I ruled long ago that you can't have these orbs on the ground, nor no-access, as it makes everyone irritated and angry that they cannot move about normally and they move out. But they can put the orbs in a skybox at 500 m or higher if they want. It's here that the male usually begins a long, angry, irrational argument trying to get you to change your policy, until finally he is persuaded to move out and find other landlord with different rules. 

So if you are unable or unwilling to provide some people with the bunker they require for their virtual lives, you must communicate this swiftly and provide refunds in full swiftly.

It's becoming more and more obvious to me that there really are two distinct populations now in SL; those who are older and have a more flexible and light-hearted and even playful attitude toward SL, which is on a huge sliding scale from creatives to griefers. But overall, earlier adapters treat SL as something that is a fantasy, surreal, changeable, and separate from RL. Later people treat it as if it really is RL because their activities in it are real; they aren't building in sandboxes and living in dragon dens; they are in Bellisseria, with suburban type houses. They want absolute versimilitude. They refuse to be told that they should "get over it" and "it's a game" and "it's not real" etc. They want it to be like RL and frankly that's not just their need; that's their right.

They turn off object entry, build, and fly if they can't turn off access to make sure no one comes in unexpectedly. They often have to be explained in detail that they should use ban/eject rapidly, without any discussion. The heartbreak of newbies is often that, immersed in RL as they are, they want to have a discussion with someone breaking into their home naked and abusive, as they would in RL. "You can't do that." "Go to your own house," etc are what you hear desperate newbies crying on various YouTubes made by cynical griefers. I tell them not to have any discussion, put a name ban on any parcel in the group, and log off even just briefly to break the attention addiction that griefers seek.

So I stress in trying to educate especially new people, or people new to Mainland renting, that they must take control of all the levers to dial the degree of privacy and security they want, and that each one has unexpected consequences. Turn off build to prevent someone littering your lawn and theoretically taking away your prim allotment (it takes awhile for them to grasp that it doesn't matter on grouped land) -- why, then your friend who came over and wants to show you something cool can't put something out on the lawn, even joining the group. Click the box to prevent "NPIOF" from entering your lot, whoops you just blocked your dear friend from Turkey or Russia who could not easily supply the payment card.

Linden Lab, which has had to think more about this than any of us, came up with the ingenious idea of making people invisible. But that's not enough. People do not want intruders coming in and sitting on their adult furniture when they are not home -- after all, logging off is the ultimate invisibility. This, more than a live, real-time invasion makes people crazy even more. While there is no danger of disease or unwanted pregnancy in a virtual world, this hard-wired behaviour must be respected and accommodated! So this is why many makers of adult furniture have controls such as "all" or "group" or a list of users. There are very elaborate compatibility products now; you can buy what seems like an ordinary tree with a seat on the top of it from Sources, and find that it is compatible with another phallic product that enables you to create a white list or black list for interactions.

Newer users -- ultimately there will be way more of them -- will ultimately push out the older users who don't take virtuality seriously. The winners of the Metaverse goldrush will be those companies who can secure versimilitude and accommodate the need for privacy and security and the rights that have evolved from those needs.

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How can there be any privacy when your mother , brother , lover , priest , enemy , friend , and the rent collector , are likely all the same person at the keyboard ?

Lose interest in everyone and everyone will lose interest in you , thats about as good as it gets privacy wise .

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2 hours ago, Sam1 Bellisserian said:

The only privacy that I think should be expected is RL privacy and that is up to each individual to protect.

As far as everything else goes, one should expect no privacy whatsoever, except when on your own land that you pay for, depending on where you choose to purchase that land, and there are still measures that you need to take to insure that privacy. Obviously there is less privacy if you buy a mainland parcel or chose to live in a Linden home

If you want total privacy then buy private land from LL and lock it down. 

It's not merely up to each individual. It's up to Linden Lab and forums and inworld moderators. The common behaviour of those who dominate the forums and brook no dissent is to try to find out the RL identity of someone who's views they dislike, or whose manner of expression they dislike, so they can drum them out of the corps. Scylla has explained to us that it is an elaborate secret club with rules and rituals that you ignore at your peril. If you don't want it to be like the Masons and strive to make it more open, be prepared to face the consequences.

So we all know how Google witch-hunting works and we all know the lengths to which people go to "out" someone they don't like. If you disbelieve me I can point you to the many blogs about how this was done to me and others. I certainly didn't publish my RL name or location or occupation on any LL server or outside their servers, but you have to realize the incredible lengths people will go to sleuth and dox you. They can grab your URL from a blog comment on an outside blog and geolocate you, sometimes to a precise building. They used to be able to grab your work email from an answer to an SL email. Etc. It's very hard to contribute to anything on the Internet and not leave a trail back to RL.

So then it is up to moderators to remove such exposes swiftly, and sometimes they are happy to leave it out baking in the sun because they are from the same cohort as the rulers of the forums. Still, you can insist on this basic SL right: that if you have not put it on your avatar's profile, it is not "fair game" anywhere in SL to reference. The fact that you are easily linked because of legions of doxers that passed before you does not change that right.

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My "private" skybox with security orb is about 1000 metres above my store. I got an IM from someone on my friend's list commenting on how much they liked my dress the other day, they were in my store, purportedly checking out my new items, but camming up at me. I haven't told my current SL love interest, who is one of these people who insists on absolute privacy in SL and probably really requires a private estate, located well away from all other regions, with banlines, aggressive security orb, and full parcel privacy controls. He would probably never set foot in my skybox again if he knew. So in addition to existing privacy controls, maybe some ability to stop people camming up while on your parcel would be nice! But honestly I don't care if people see what I am doing too much, as long as they don't stand right next to me while I am naked or something (especially if they are naked too, you know those types, the ones who suddenly appear in your skybox, freenis on display).

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4 hours ago, Sam1 Bellisserian said:

The only privacy that I think should be expected is RL privacy and that is up to each individual to protect.

As far as everything else goes, one should expect no privacy whatsoever, except when on your own land that you pay for, depending on where you choose to purchase that land, and there are still measures that you need to take to insure that privacy. Obviously there is less privacy if you buy a mainland parcel or chose to live in a Linden home

If you want total privacy then buy private land from LL and lock it down. 

This is something I've heard people say before here, and I get it -- as my OP notes, it's simply unreasonable to expect complete privacy on a social platform. And unless one is an utter hermit, hiding one's profile from search and never venturing off one's land, that's true even of those who do own a private estate.

What I'm not sure about is your word "expect." I agree that there is a huge variety of ways in which my privacy might be invaded in unwelcome ways, and that even with precautions there are ways to get around my attempts to be private . . . but should I expect that?

Take the instance of upskirting. I can alpha out my bits and I can wear panties (by default I'm almost always wearing BoM panties), but that's not going to stop people from trying. But it seems to me wrong to suggest I should expect people to do this. It is, after all, a violation of my body and my personal space (virtual those these are), and it is a violation of commonly accepted conventions of behaviour in a civil society. Recognizing that there are people who will still do it isn't the same as "expecting" it -- and if I catch someone up to it, I'm not going to shrug it off and says "Oh well, no privacy in SL": I'm going to give them hell.

Because what I do expect is to be treated with respect and civility, and have my rights to at least a basic degree of privacy respected.

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