Wednesday, October 10, 2007


Your Fancy House Will Not Buy You Privacy
Written 8 October, 2007


The following recently rolled into my e-mail in box. I have changed the initial of the writer to protect her already anonymous identity.

From: A.

Subject: Re: Questions about SL

Dear A.:

I don't check this e-box nearly as often as I should, so my apologies for the delay in my reply.
SL is both very public and very private. I'll explain how.

First, your identity is completely anonymous. Only Linden Lab will know who you really are, and they won't know if you use an account from Yahoo or Goodle as your e-mail address. No one will know your true identity unless you tell them. Many people tell absolutely no one, some put their real identities in their profiles, and most probably tell only a few people. My rule is I tell anyone who has a need to know. I told my partner, for example, who I am.

How SL is public is that solid walls are not much of an obstacle for looking through or getting through. Anyone who is experience with the camera controls can rotate their view through a wall and look at you inside your house and even your bedroom. And they can do it at a long distance, too-- even across sims.

Doors can be locked and will not open for unauthorized avatars, but they are easy to get around. You can rotate your camera until you are looking inside the room and sit on a chair or bed or poseball and you will instantly be inside the room. You can also buy gadgets that turn you nonphysical, and you can move through walls.

Red fences are a little more protection. If set, they keep avatars out of land parcels, and there's no getting around them. They go only to about 200 meters, though, and there's nothing to stop someone from peering down from a height. If you have a very large parcel, like 8k, and have a house near the middle, most people won't be able to look that far--- but someone who is determined can.

Another way SL is private is IM. No one in world can read your IMs unless they are invited, and no devices can listen in to it. If you have your Preferences set to send IMs to e-mail, however, IMs sent when you are offline will show up in your e-mail in-box and someone in your house could potentially read them.

SL does log both chat and IMs. If you turn logging on in preferences, everything you say or read will be saved to your hard drive. I just found a huge file with months and months of chat and ims. This can be handy, but it does reduce the privacy of IMs.

Chat carries only 20 meters (whispers 5 m, shouts 100 m). Anyone who is out of that range won't be able to listen to you, but there are all sorts of devices that can be placed within Chat range or will move into Chat range and listen to you. Some devices will track you all around a sim and even across sim lines, and some will actually attach to your avatar. Anyone could put a script in any device-- a table, an invisible tiny cube, even a piece of jewelry they gave to you that will relay your Chat to them. I've been learning scripting, and it's only a few lines of code that could easily be hidden in, say, a bling script.

A lot of people make alternate avatars for reasons of personal privacy. They may do so for sneaky reasons-- to cheat or spy upon a spouse, for instance-- or for more pure purposes. Some busy and popular avatars rez alts so they can explore the grid in peace.

The Lindens are putting an identity verification process into place that unsettles a lot of people, myself included, because an outside company will be collecting data on peoples' identities. This is a voluntary thing, for now at least, but I would say it's a virtual (no pun intended) that identities will be channeled to the Feds and would be subject to court order even if the third party was pure of heart.

Do the Lindens record all chat? Probably. Would they disclose it? Not voluntarily, and there's a chance it's not recorded if you don't have it turned on, but most likely every word ever spoken in SL is on a Linden hard drive. Text takes very little room, you know.

For considerations of bandwidth, I seriously doubt that video is recorded-- but there's a record function in SL that saves video seen by your Av to your hard drive, and there's software, free and otherwise, like Growler ( that records both audio and video. I have Growler, and have used it to make a couple of movies that I've posted on YouTube (Search Pele Train Ride on

I hope that answers your questions.


1 comment:

Weed said...

thanks Chey for the useful info -- i've experimented with camera controls & settings (and wow, they are powerful!) but hadn't given a thought to chat & IM etc