Criticism of Second Life

Due to constant development, and as an open environment accessible by almost anyone with access to the Internet,[1] a number of difficult issues have arisen around Second Life. Issues range from the technical (budgeting of server resources), to moral (pornography), to legal (legal position of the Linden Dollar, Bragg v. Linden Lab). In September 2006, there were also issues with customer security.

Contents

Technical

Quality Assurance

There has been a lot of criticism about quality assurance of Second Life. Some[who?]users complain that Linden Lab focuses too much on bringing new features to the production environment instead of fixing long-standing bugs that, in the worst case, cause financial loss for the users. On April 30, 2007 an open letter, signed by over 700[2] frustrated users, was sent to Linden Lab to protest the quality assurance process of the company.[3] Linden Lab has responded to the open letter.[4]

Frame Rate

Computer hardware and Internet connections capable of smoothly rendering high quality content in other MMOGs may perform poorly in Second Life, resulting in low frame rates and unresponsive controls on even minimal graphical configurations. The problem is especially prevalent when large numbers of avatars congregate in one area. This problem is usually attributed to the fact that the ability of Second Life users to freely edit the world at any time seriously limits the amount of graphical optimisation that can be performed compared to games where the graphical environment is precalculated and fixed. There are many locations in the Second Life world where users are required to remove detailed avatars, animated items, and disable features, in order to reduce lag time for users.

Congestion

A single region (a 256x256 square of land that is hosted on a single server) may only accommodate a limited number of Residents (40 on 'mainland' regions, up to 100 on private islands),[5] causing some popular locations such as teleportation points to become inaccessible at times. It is possible for an area of land a Resident has paid for to become inaccessible because another area in the same region has exhausted the avatar limit.

Interface

The control scheme for Second Life combines controls useful for 3D editing with those useful for game play, and as such is highly unintuitive for many, requiring various combinations of alt, ctrl, and the mouse for basic manipulation of the camera and in-world objects. Also, everything in the player's possession—textures, animations, objects, clothing, sounds, videos—shares a common directory tree, and can quickly become cluttered if not carefully managed.

Windows Vista

As of September 16, 2007, Second Life was not yet officially supported on Windows Vista.[6] However, the latest Second Life client as of mid-May 2008 is now known to run very smoothly under Windows Vista, provided that users have the right hardware configuration and are running the latest graphics drivers with OpenGL support from NVIDIA (v158.18 or later) or ATI. (Second Life is not compatible with some older video cards.)[7]

Alternative accounts

The policy allowing the easy creation of multiple accounts by the same real person is alleged[who?] to have resulted in degraded system performance, and increased incidence of griefing. In addition, several users[who?] argued that the ability for a single real individual to create an unlimited number of accounts for free had the effect of highly exaggerating the "residence" figures, pointing out that the actual activity of the world was roughly nine percent of the claimed residency figures, with paying membership below two percent[citation needed]. Blogs and forum posts regularly allege exaggerated membership and performance claims.[8][9]

At the same time Linden Lab keeps logs about the identity of the computers used to login.

Social Issues

The Fifth Estate had a segment, Strangers in Paradise, where it shows the effect it has on people who use Second Life as a social tool, focusing mostly on two house-wives, one from Canada and another from the United States.[10]

Content

Sex

Some media attention has been given to sexual activity involving avatars with a child-like appearance.[11] The United Kingdom[12][13][14] and Germany[15] are among the countries investigating new laws to combat simulated child pornography. The USA has attempted to pass several laws forbidding simulated child pornography, however, each one has been struck down by the US Supreme Court as an infringement on the first amendment right to free speech.[16]

As of May 2007, two such countries, Germany and Belgium, have launched a police investigation into Age of Consent-related offenses in Second Life (including both trading of non-virtual photography and involuntary virtual sexual activity with childlike avatars by means of virtual identity theft).[17][18] Linden Lab responded by issuing a statement that any "depiction of sexual or lewd acts involving minors" was a bannable offence.[19]

In France, a conservative family union, Familles de France, sued Linden Lab in June 2007, alleging that Second Life gave access to minors to sexual content, including bondage, zoophilia and scatophilia, as well as gambling and advertisements for alcohol, drugs or tobacco[citation needed]. Linden Lab pointed out that the virtual world is not meant for children.

Gambling

Until July 25, 2007, gambling was allowed in both PG and Mature regions. The exception was the Teen Grid, where all mature content is disallowed, including gambling.[citation needed] Gambling was most commonly conducted using scripted gambling machines created by residents. There was no central authority verifying the workings of these gambling machines,[citation needed] therefore it was entirely possible for these machines to "cheat", never allowing a player to win, or to include "back doors", allowing the programmer of the machine to be certain to "win" from the host.

Non-Commercial Content

Second Life originally implemented systems of dwell and developer incentive, whereby owners of areas that attracted a large number of visitors received a subsidised income in L$ from Linden Lab. This removed the need for such areas to include money-making schemes, such as malls or rental areas, in order to recoup the costs of owning the land. However, these schemes were removed in April 2006, requiring the owners of these areas to raise the money themselves. This has had the net effect of making it substantially more difficult for areas with a social/artistic focus, as opposed to a money-making one, to survive without becoming a drain on the owner's real life finances.

Griefing and Denial of Service attacks

Second Life has been attacked several times by groups of Residents abusing the creation tools to create objects that harass other users or damage the system. This includes Grey Goo objects which infinitely reproduce, eventually overwhelming the servers;[20] orbiters which throw an avatar so far upwards they cannot get back down in a reasonable timeframe without teleporting; cages which surround avatars, preventing them from moving, and similar. Although combat between users is sanctioned in certain areas of the world, these objects have been used to cause disruption in all areas; attacks on the grid itself, such as Grey Goo, are of course strictly forbidden anywhere on the grid. Recently Linden Lab announced that new plans to combat Grey Goo attacks are under consideration, including changes to the back end code to minimize damage from attacks, and possible restriction of scripting privileges to trusted or verified accounts.[21] Savvy users of the service can easily perpetrate DoS (Denial of Service) attacks on other users simply by scripting objects within the opensource language that spew screen filling characters (typically "@" signs) from anywhere on the grid to another avatar's UUID (user ID) thereby disabling a clear view to the virtual world, blocking smooth transmission of communications with other users (chat) and ultimately cascading into a burden to the users client software that can result in the termination of the connection. Linden Lab has never put in place proper measures to protect customers from these types of attacks.

Unauthorized copying of content

Second Life features a built-in digital rights management system that controls the movement of textures, sounds, scripts, and models with the Second Life servers at Linden Lab. At some point, though, this data must be sent to a user's computer to be displayed or played—an issue fundamental to any system attempting to apply restrictions to digital information.

In November 2006 controversy arose over a tool called CopyBot, developed as part of libsecondlife and was intended to allow users to legitimately back up their Second Life data. For a brief period, an unmodified CopyBot allowed any user to replicate SL items or avatars (although not scripts, which run only on the servers at Linden Lab). Later changes to the SecondLife protocols prevented unmodified copies of CopyBot from working. Nevertheless, the basic issue of users being able to duplicate content that is sent to them remains.

Residents who copy content belonging to other users face being banned from Second Life, but Linden Lab has so far never sued any of these users for copyright infringement; since the resident creators (and not Linden Lab) retain ownership of the rights, it is not clear whether Linden Lab would legally be able to do so. Linden Lab does, however, comply with DMCA Takedown Notices served to them against resident content; serving a DMCA Takedown Notice is the normal procedure recommended by Linden Lab for having copyrighted content illegally resold on Second Life.

International Issues

Legality

Second Life users are expected to obey the laws of their own local countries with regard to their actions in the virtual world; however, a problem can arise in countries which have tough laws regarding material downloaded from the Internet, such as pornography. It is possible, for example, for a US user - even in a non-adult area - to approach German users and create an object displaying an obscene uploaded image which is illegal under German law but legal under US law. Although the US user has broken the Second Life TOS as a result, and faces suspension or banning from Second Life, the German user has broken a real-life sex offense law by downloading the image and faces a far worse penalty. Even if the user is eventually deemed to not be responsible for this download because it was unsolicited, they will still have been investigated for a sex offense with all the reputational and other damage that entails. So far, no actual prosecutions have resulted from actions of this type, but it is a possibility that has created concern[citation needed].

Taxation

In September 2007, Linden Lab announced that they would be required to charge VAT on land fees to users inside the European Union, thereby increasing the business costs of many businesses in Second Life and making it more difficult for them to compete with non-EU businesses on price. Real life law in the EU provides protection for European businesses in this case: businesses can "VAT register", which requires them to agree to collect VAT from European customers, but in return they do not have to pay VAT on their business supplies, enabling them to sell to non-EU customers at competitive prices in their markets. Although Linden Lab allows VAT-registered businesses to claim their VAT exemption, most Second Life businesses are unable to take advantage of this, because Linden Lab have not provided any means for them to meet the obligations they are legally required to meet in order to become VAT-registered. They cannot tell whether a customer is European or not in order to know whether to charge them VAT, and because L$ is not considered a real currency, transactions purely in L$ are not legally eligible to satisfy the obligations anyway. In addition, a VAT-registered business must be legally a complete business, with complete accounts that can be audited, whereas many Second Life "businesses" are simply private individuals making things because they enjoy it and selling them to help with their land fees.

In addition, when VAT was introduced, it was abruptly added to the monthly bills for European users without giving them a chance to reduce their service consumption after the announcement, thus meaning that customers for whom the non-VAT price for their current services was affordable while the VAT price was not were forced to pay an unacceptably high bill. Some users are considering an action against Linden Lab regarding this[citation needed], arguing that even if Linden Lab legally should have been charging VAT all along, this does not grant them permission to draw extra money from users' credit cards without permission from those users; the users should have had the option to underpay (and have the unpaid part of services withdrawn).

Litigation

Bragg v. Linden Lab

In 2006, attorney Marc Bragg sued Linden Lab, claiming that it had illegally deprived him of access to his account[22] after he discovered a loophole in the online land auction system which allowed regions to be purchased at prices below reserve. Although most users and commentators believed that Bragg would have no chance of winning, a number of legal developments occurred as a result of the case, including a court ruling that parts of the Second Life Terms of Service were unenforceable, due to being an unconscionable contract of adhesion.[23] The case eventually ended with Bragg's virtual land and account being restored to him in a confidential out-of-court settlement.[24] As such, a settlement created no precedent and thus left users with confusion as to what legal rights they truly had with respect to their virtual land, items, and account. Many of Bragg's legal arguments rested on the claim—advertised on Linden Lab web site—that virtual land within Second Life could be "owned" by the purchasing user, which was removed shortly after the settlement,[25] leading to speculation that this was part of the reason for the settlement.[26]

Other

Customer Security

On September 8, 2006, Linden Lab released a news bulletin that revealed their Second Life database had been compromised and customer information, including encrypted passwords and users' real names, had likely been accessed.[27][28] However it was later revealed that the hacker had in fact been focused on trying to cheat the in-world money system[29] and their access to personal information was believed incidental, although a full alert was still raised for safety's sake.

Internal Regulation

Linden Lab have made it a strong policy that they will not act to investigate or enforce any contracts or agreements made purely between users of Second Life, although they will co-operate with real-life courts or law enforcement in doing so. This has led to occurrences of low-level fraud within Second Life, in which users swindle other users out of money (via Linden dollars which are later traded for real money). Linden Lab will not act on such fraud, and the amounts of money involved are usually small enough (less than US$100) that it is unlikely the victim will wish to spend the money and effort involved in real-life legal proceedings.

False DMCA takedown notices

There have also been issues with the use of false DMCA takedown notices.[30] Once a DMCA takedown notice is served, reversing it requires an individual to expose his personal information to the filer (filing a notice does not require this); for the penalty of perjury to be enacted, a lawsuit is required (anything less, the false DMCA claimer can just claim it from a different account every week causing legitimate business unlimited losses). In addition, the technical process of removal and re-instatement of content on Second Life is subject to failure which can result in content becoming unusable to its owner. This does not effectively prevent content theft; a thief who is subject to a DMCA takedown notice will not challenge it, but will simply create a new account and re-upload the content, often releasing it with all permissions available to maximize propagation out of spite.

Most users in the world as paying, private individuals are, likewise, effectively unprotected. Common forms of fraud taking place in-world include bogus investment and pyramid schemes, fake or hacked vendors, and failure to honor land rental agreements. Some residents have claimed that there is also a high incidence of sales of content to users unaware of its value (for example, weapons which would require the buyer to own a private island, as firing them in any other area would violate the terms of service; or avatars which appear to represent advanced roles (such as police or government officials) but which, in reality, are nothing more than party costumes due to the inability to support those roles in a world with free social behaviour[clarification needed]).

A group of virtual landowners online have filed a class action lawsuit against the company, claiming the company broke the law when it rescinded their ownership rights. The plaintiffs say a change in the terms of service forced them to either accept new terms that rescinded their virtual property ownership rights, or else be locked out of the site.[31]

Terms of Service changes

Linden Lab typically offer no compensation when a change to the platform or Terms of Service is made, even when it has a serious negative effect on users. For example, when gambling was banned on Second Life in July 2007, users who had invested money and time in casinos lost their investment.

"Virtual Riot"

In January 2007, a "virtual riot" erupted between members of the French National Front (FN) who had established a virtual HQ on Second Life, and anti-racism activists, including Second Life Left Unity, a socialist and anti-capitalist user-group.[32][33][34][35] Since then, several small Internet-based organizations have claimed some responsibility for instigating the riots.[36]

OpenSpaces

Linden Lab, for a long period, offered OpenSpace regions to users: regions which were purchased in packs of four, with all four running on a single CPU core, intended to be placed next to an existing region to create the effect of larger size. The fee for 4 OpenSpaces was identical to that for a single private region. However, in March 2008, this rule was modified to permit OpenSpaces to be bought individually and placed elsewhere, as well as increasing the prim load each one could handle. OpenSpaces were made available for a US$415 downpayment plus a US$75 monthly fee.

In October 2008 Linden Lab announced that the OpenSpaces being used for this purpose were being misused; there was in fact no technical throttle limiting their usage. Linden Lab raised the monthly fee per OpenSpace to US$125, the same cost as half a region; added an avatar limit of 20; and renamed it to Homestead.

A week after the initial announcement Linden Labs stated its intention to add technical limits. A revised Openspace product, with far fewer prims, a no-residency rule, and costing the same monthly amount, was announced

In May 2009, Linden Lab announced they were "grandfathering" OpenSpace sims (now rebranded as "Homesteads"), after a protracted protest movement[37] caused a major amount of negative publicity and funded potential litigation.[38][39][40]

Marketing

Second Life has been attacked for the use of various marketing techniques, which some view as dishonest. These include:

  • Manipulation of user count statistics to make the world seem more popular than it is. This includes counting multiple avatars created by the same real person as separate accounts, never removing accounts from the database, no matter how long they have been idle, counting accounts which are created for free and which never pay any money into the game equally with those that do, and implementing in-world systems which encourage the creation of bogus extra accounts (for example, "traffic bots" which simply remain stationary in a store, causing the system to rank the store as popular because there are people there).[41][42]
  • Over-emphasis of minority groups. The marketing of Second Life frequently focuses on particular groups (money earners, live musicians, corporate networkers) who represent a tiny minority in the actual world, while at the same time being heavy handed in restricting the commercial opportunities LL has attracted those same people to SL to engage in.[citation needed]
  • Vagueness about what is prohibited. The Second Life home page and other publications by Linden Labs are extremely vague about what activities can and cannot be done in Second Life. Although ostensibly this is necessary because residents may create entirely new activities which Linden Labs could not have predicted, it is alleged that this is a deliberate technique to fool users into logging in and spending time and money pursuing activities that may initially appear to be possible but in fact are not.[citation needed]

Separate grids

In Second Life, there are two age-differentiated grids (one is for teens 13-17, one is for adults 18 or over). When a teen turns 18, he/she is transferred from the Teen Grid to the Main Grid. Linden Lab has received controversy for the lack of integration between teens and adults. Some parents protest that they cannot be on the grid together with their teenage children, and companies cannot market to both teens and adults in SL even if their products have universal appeal. Teen grid residents have spoken out in favor of merging the two grids with certain limitations to protect minors from adult content and predators on the main grid. This grid merge is widely but not universally supported by teen grid residents. It should be noted that the majority of those on the Teen Grid who oppose merger would want a separate "Teen Only" area, much like the recently-created "Adult" mainland in Second Life. Linden Lab employees (known as "Lindens") have also been in favor of merging the grids, most notably Blue Linden, former teen grid manager.

The teen grid and the adult grid actully are technically parts of one grid called Agni. (Some of the Second Life grids are named after Hindu gods.) However, teen residents cannot access the adult regions, and adult residents cannot access the teen regions.

On 19 January 2009 Linden Lab, Philip Linden related (in an interview with Metanomics) an intent to merge the two grids into one. This immediately attracted uproar on SL's private forums, largely from residents who feared they would be required to use the unpopular age verification system, and would be permanently under threat of a false sex-related allegation or lawsuit by a teenager or his/her parents.

The grids are made of regions each 256 meters square. Regions without servers appear as deep sea and cannot be entered and cannot be flown over, but regions with servers can be seen across regions without servers.

These regions' coordinate numbers locating them within the grid can be from 0 to (220-1), giving in theory a total grid size of about 281.475 million kilometers square; but all or most regions with servers are in the extreme northwest corner of this vast theoretical area.[43]

Underage users, who are under 18 in real life, are not allowed onto the main grid, and being an underage user there is an offense that can be abuse reported. However, Linden Lab places burden of proof on alleged underage users, and does not check to verify anything themselves. As a result, false underage user reports are filed by some residents as a form of griefing or for revenge.

Adult content

Second Life Main Grid regions are rated either "PG", "Mature" or "Adult".[44] Builds, textures, actions, animations, chat, or businesses that are of an adult nature are regulated by the Second Life Terms of Service[45] to only occur in simulators with a Mature or Adult rating. PG rated sims exist as an alternative for residents who do not wish to reside in areas where adult-oriented activities and businesses are permitted.

Linden Lab has created an Adult rated continent named Zindra.[44] Residents who are not age verified (as over-18) are not able to access Zindra.

References

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  2. ^ "Open Letters News, 5/1/2007". http://www.projectopenletter.com/News.aspx. Retrieved 2007-06-15. 
  3. ^ "Project Open Letter". http://www.projectopenletter.com/. Retrieved 2007-06-08. 
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  39. ^ [1][dead link]
  40. ^ https://blogs.secondlife.com/community/land/blog/2009/05/26/good-news-homestead-pricing-to-be-grandfathered-if-purchased-before-july-1st-2009
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