RedZone gets new lease on life

On Feb 24, 2011 the Terms Of Service/Community Standards were updated by Linden Lab, the creators of the virtual world of Second Life, to reflect concerns by users of the service regarding privacy and the use of multiple user accounts by one person.

“Residents are entitled to a reasonable level of privacy with regard to their Second Life experience. Sharing personal information about your fellow Residents without their consent — including gender, religion, age, marital status, race, sexual preference, alternate account names, and real-world location beyond what is provided by them in their Resident profile — is not allowed. Remotely monitoring conversations in Second Life, posting conversation logs, or sharing conversation logs without the participants’ consent are all prohibited.”

Readers should note that the Community Standards and Terms of Service apply only to the Second Life service and web sites owned by Linden Research, and not third party web sites.

For weeks many users of Second Life have blasted the SL-forums with complaints about fellow residents, who use automated security systems to protect their virtual properties. Some of these systems have the ability to detect and share information on user’s alternate accounts. This is done by comparing the IP address of a scanned avatar and comparing it to other avatars that have been scanned by the security system. Residents claim that these systems violate their right to privacy, since SL is more or less geared towards anonymity. The counter-arguments are that many residents who have been previously banned by Linden Lab use alternate accounts to come back into SL, letting them grief and stalk others making such alt detection systems useful and necessary.

One such system to take the brunt of the hatred from privacy advocates is RedZone, created by SL resident zFire Xue. Land owners could use RedZone to scan for and ban users from their private land based off of the possibility that person was an alternate account of a previously banned user.   Part of the controversy of his system, is that it publicly identifies residents’ possible alts of banned avatars to RedZone users via the subscribers’ interface on the official RedZone web site.

Mr Xue granted Krypton Radio permission to print a statement he issued on his RedZone customer support forums concerning the Linden Lab Terms Of Service change:

“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.
Best Regards,
zFire Xue
 
PS: Everything is still logged as before, everything still works as before.
Only now to view the alts you need consent.
Alts are still bannable 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.”

There are various security systems used by residents in SL, some utilizing the ability to compare avatar accounts by checking IP addresses. This has never been a fool-proof tool, as some users share the same address due to the location they log-in from such as a college dorm. Mr Xue’s security system does in fact have an appeal option on his website, to allow people to file a grievance if they feel they were wrongly banned from a private property by the RedZone service. To clarify, the RedZone system only has the ability to ban avatars from property where it was installed by the property owner.

Critics of the RedZone system say the copybot viewers it detects represents only 0.025% of the total viewers scanned, according to zFire Xue’s own web page dedicated to users of the system.  While this number seems low, it makes more sense in perspective: according to Justice League estimates, less than half a percent of the citizens of Second Life are griefers in the first place, so the number of copybot clients detected by RedZone compared to the number of griefers is actually rather significant.

The Green Zone

The main group of critics appears to be users of a product called “Green Zone”,  a device which until recently was able to detect the probe objects used by the Red Zone security device.  The Green Zone Users group in Second Life was founded by an avatar named “Fart Admiral”, and the group is open enrollment with no controls at all on who joins. The fact that the group has nearly a thousand members does not speak to the quality of its membership.  It is not possible to determine how many of these members are secretly alts of other members. The group could easily have been vastly inflated in size by a small group of dedicated dissidents, creating the impression of  a vast anti-Red Zone response, and there is no way to prove otherwise.

The GreenZone device itself was created by the operator of an avatar named Anastasia Howlitt, purportedly in retribution for the banning of her alt Andromeda Sawson for copybotting activities.  zFire Xue posted compelling evidence of the connection between the Andromeda Sawson and Anastasia Howlitt accounts on the RedZone support web site.  Howlitt’s sole defense was to claim that her computer was used by “a friend”.

Green Zoners have gone to great lengths to harass Red Zone users in efforts to coerce them to abandon use of the product, even going as far as crashing their sims in some cases.  Anonymity appears to be being abused by at least some faction within this group.  It is clear that at least some percentage of the Green Zoners have an agenda in which the public welfare plays no part. Even some otherwise responsible journalists have fallen for this ruse, unintentionally siding with copybotters, known trolls and sim crashers.

Something indeed strange is going on with this topic of interest:  opponents of the RedZone system point to such things as this large group in SL and how active the thread on SL Universe is (400 pages and counting) – but Hamlet Au of New World Notes questions how widespread interest in this topic really is, saying that more people are interested in his article on Kinect for SL than they are in his original RedZone article.  That this could be a manufactured “social uprising” is not entirely out of the question.

IP Addresses and Privacy

There are still concerns by residents that logging of IP addresses or other information is a violation of the Terms Of Service, however this was addressed by Linden Lab under the following regarding Privacy.

“Certain account information is displayed to other users in your Second Life profile, and may be available through automated script calls and application program interfaces. This information includes your account name, account type, the date your account was established, whether or not you are currently online, user rating information, group and partner information, and whether or not you have established a payment account or transaction history with Linden Lab. Further, you agree and understand that Linden Lab does not control and is not responsible for information, privacy or security practices concerning data that you provide to, or that may otherwise be collected by, Second Life users other than Linden Lab. For instance, some services operated by Second Life users may provide content that is accessed through and located on third party (non-Linden Lab) servers that may log IP addresses.”

So far it would appear that logging of IP addresses and detection of possible alts is still allowed, however the handling of this information is what this update covers. As long as the information collected is not publicly shared without permission, those security systems who employ these methods are still allowed to operate.

The ramifications of this dramatic change in Linden Lab privacy policy appears to be a boon to those who consider their alternate accounts private, but may have the opposite effect on land and business owners throughout the grid who now have no where to turn for information on  abusers of alternate accounts to help keep them off their regions and away from their friends, families, and places of business.

 

UPDATE:  RedZone Not Allowed to Reveal Alts In-World Under Any Circumstances

On the Second Life JIRA service, on March 2, 2010, Soft Linden posted the following:

Hey, all. I got the go-ahead to give an update on zF Red Zone specifically. Again, thank you for the ARs with specific info about violations. These have been very helpful for letting Lindens know what’s going on.

Tuesday morning, we removed zF Red Zone from the Marketplace for a second time. We removed the in-world vendor distributing the item as well. We determined that zF Red Zone was still in violation of our Terms of Service and Community Standards.

We asked for removal by no later than today of all zF Red Zone functionality that discloses any alternate account names. That is, even if consent is asked, the service may not act on the consent. In addition, we asked for removal by no later than Friday of the interface for and any remaining implementation of the zF Red Zone consent mechanism because it does not comply with our policies. If these updates are not made, we will take appropriate steps to remedy the violations.

As before, we appreciate your help in keeping an eye on content. If you find that any merchant’s product is not in compliance with our TOS or our Community Standards, please file an abuse report about the product. Do this even if you filed against a previous version. Include a specific explanation of what you believe is a violation, and ideally select and report the in-world object at issue in case it behaves differently than what’s in the Marketplace. Before reporting, make sure you have first-hand knowledge of the issue. Support can best react if you explain specific steps to reproduce or confirm a violation.

This appears to be contrary to what zFire Xue had been previously told by Linden representatives about the suitability of his RedZone system’s handling of information about alternate accounts, and does represent a significant setback for the popular security system.  Mr. Xue’s only possible stance now is  to remove any functionality that permits the use of the system to discover alts through any in-world interface, though a lookup feature on the support web site for the product would obviously be outside Linden Lab’s jurisdiction or control.  Since IP collection is still confirmed not to be a ToS violation, the ability of RedZone to banning by IP address is obviously still not a violation of the Second Life Community Standards so long as  the revealing of alts by in-world means is removed from its list of features.

And it appears that this is exactly the tack Mr. Xue has had to take – the system can still ban by IP address, but the new Terms of Service forbids him from implementing an appeals process  since it would require banned individuals to identify their own alts.  His posts in the Red Zone support forums express frustration with Linden Lab for repeatedly flip-flopping on the rules as they apply to the Red Zone, and applying the rules with apparent caprice.

Update: zFire Xue Banned from Second Life

As of the morning of March 16, 2011, zFire Xue and his business alt, TheBoris Gothly, have been banned from Second Life.  While the RedZone security systems still exist in places on the grid, they are now empty husks – the scripts that made them work have been removed from the asset server’s databases, and the devices are now completely inert.  These actions were done in accordance with Linden Lab’s new policy against revealing alts in-world.

Soft Linden’s additional stipulation that the RedZone devices not reveal alt information even if the device had given permission appears to have been based on Linden Lab’s inability to confirm whether permission had been granted by any individual, since the RedZone database was not accessible to Linden Lab for verification, nor could it be made so in any practical sense.  Allowing this would have put Linden Lab in the position of simply accepting zFire’s word on the matter.

This is a developing story – stay tuned to Krypton Radio for updates as they’re made available!

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