The Tech Companies, Not The Security Services, Should Take The Heat For The Spying Game

The recent fuss about The NSA and GCHQ allegedly spying on Second Life users largely made me go “meh”. I mean this is what I expect those agencies to do and I really can’t see any way of stopping them doing it. However there is a level whereby I feel protestations about intrusive behaviour could work, that’s at levels way below the security agencies, it’s with tech companies.

AT&T are, according to Gigaom, rolling out a new gigabit service in Austin in two flavours. Premier, for USD$70 a month and Standard, for USD$99 a month. The terminology sounds odd, with premier being the cheaper option. However here’s the catch, the cheaper option means you need to agree to being part of AT&T preferences, which is targeted advertising, or as AT&T themselves explain:

U-verse with GigaPower Premier offer is available with your agreement to participate in AT&T Internet Preferences. AT&T may use your Web browsing information, like the search terms you enter and the Web pages you visit, to provide you relevant offers and ads tailored to your interests.

So basically for the cheaper option, you sell your browsing habits it seems. This idea isn’t new, websites with advertising will often have the option to turn off the adverts for a fee. However it’s still very creepy.

When the recent hoo-ha broke about the spies it wasn’t the NSA or GCHQ involvement I found creepy, nor was it Linden Lab talking to the NSA about virtual worlds. The NY Times article claims that Cory Ondrejka was the senior Linden exec involved and reports:

In 2007, as the N.S.A. and other intelligence agencies were beginning to explore virtual games, N.S.A. officials met with the chief technology officer for the manufacturer of Second Life, the San Francisco-based Linden Lab. The executive, Cory Ondrejka, was a former Navy officer who had worked at the N.S.A. with a top-secret security clearance.

He visited the agency’s headquarters at Fort Meade, Md., in May 2007 to speak to staff members over a brown bag lunch, according to an internal agency announcement. “Second Life has proven that virtual worlds of social networking are a reality: come hear Cory tell you why!” said the announcement.

That all sounds very reasonable to me, Cory seems to be using his knowledge of his old industry and showing them the power of virtual worlds, it’s the next part of the article where it all goes a bit tits up:

It added that virtual worlds gave the government the opportunity “to understand the motivation, context and consequent behaviors of non-Americans through observation, without leaving U.S. soil.”

That’s where it all gets a bit creepy.

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Oz Linden “We hear what you’ve all said”

The ongoing hoo-ha over the proposed solution to revealing a resident’s true online status has generated a lot of feedback over the weekend on Jira SVC-4823. The issue, about online status being respected has morphed into something else with lots of use cases being cited for keeping this function alive. Oz Linden has now made a plea to try and help improve feedback as well as assuring people that The Lab are listenting:

Everyone…. I don’t know if this will help or not, but I’m going to give it a try and see….

We hear what you’ve all said, we understand the issues, and we’re going to discuss what we can and should do about them.

Nothing is final.

We appreciate that Phoenix is moving appropriately to remove the privacy violation from their next release, and hope that they’ll do that soon, but we understand that these things take time.

In order to help us to have a better understanding, I appeal to the many of you who are posting messages that essentially say “I agree – this will be bad for me too” as opposed to describing a specific use case not already described here (and thank you to the many posts that have done a good job describing use cases): please stop with these “me too” posts – they just make it harder to read the full stream (and yes, I at least am reading all of every comment). We know that for every use case there are many users… we don’t need each of them to post something.”

I would advise those concerned with this issue to help Oz here, because filtering feedback becomes difficult when the same use case keeps getting cited, but what are the reasonable use cases?

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Proposed Online Status Fix Will Break Content

This is a difficult one, over at SLUniverse Bronxelf has posted that Linden Lab are going to fix an issue that allows people to find out someone else’s online status, this is detailed in Jira SVC-4823. I agree that someone’s online status should be what the person themself set it to, so if you set your setting to friends and groups only, that’s what should be respected. People would like to see this go further and have an invisible to everyone option, currently you seem to need to do this individually for your friends, but we’re looking at the privacy settings in preferences such as this:

Image For Privacy Settings Should go here
Privacy Settings

The simple fact of the matter is that your privacy settings can easily be made useless by some simple scripting and people, rightly don’t like this. I agree with Bronxelf on this issue, the settings should be resepected, if you want to appear invisible, you should. Linden Lab agree too, but the solution is now creating a great deal of gnashing of teeth, because the solution will break content if Linden Lab go ahead with it, they might not yet go ahead with it.

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How To Collect Data, Win Friends And Influence People

On January 6th Lil Linden was informing people of server deploys for the week of January 3rd….Americans write dates funny, anyway whilst talking of Magnum (no not the PI) Lil pointed folk in the direction of Grid Survey to see what release channel their sim was on, be it Magnum, Le Tigre or Blue Steel.

The other day I was at an office hour where a question was asked about RC channels to which a Linden mused there was a website which informed people of what release channel a sim was on, a resident piped up that the website was …..Grid Survey! Yes Tyche Shepherd’s Grid Survey is an unofficial, official source of great data on the grid and the reason that Tyche’s site is considered one of such awesomeness is due to Tyche’s extremely ethical handling of data.

The data Tyche collects is informative, public, wonderfully interesting and presented in a manner that makes it a delight to read, indeed I’d go as far to say that Tyche presents the best public stats on Second Life anywhere!

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Redzone Row Rumbles On

Dale Innis describes the Redzone issue as silly, not just people’s concerns about Redzone, Dale is talking about Redzone itself being silly because it can’t possibly be accurate. Hamlet over at New World Notes suggests it’s not a big issue because so few of Second Life’s total population have voted on the Jira. They are both right to a degree but are both missing the bigger issues because this isn’t about IP logging or tracking, I get to see IP addresses of visitors here, it’s not what gets logged that’s the issue, it’s how it’s used.

Data is required to help improve services, but that data should really be limited when it’s going to be shared or used for marketing purposes, I used to work with a guy who would spell his name incorrectly during surveys so he could track who was selling on his details. People get miffed when their data is used for purposes other than they expected, anyone commenting on my blog, or Hamlet’s isn’t giving us permission to put them on mailing lists, publish their details or engage in a marketing campaign with them and although some sites will try to do this, there are privacy laws and directives to be aware of, the issue is really one of respect, and that’s where Redzone and its users fall down.

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