February 15, 2010

Stop camming Second Life without consent!!

That's the rather strident title of a recent post in the official Second Life blogs by resident activist, Prokofy Neva. You see, dear Prok is all worked up over something I blogged about a few weeks ago. It's a gizmo called Peek360. Basically, it lets you put in a region name and some coordinates and voila, a "bot" takes a 360° rotating view of whatever's at that location.

Prok sees this as in invasion of privacy and quite possibly, the coming of the anti-Christ. True to form, her post stirred up a lot of dust. Comments ranged from total agreement to "it's a TOS violation" to some rather ridiculous comparisons to real world legal practice.

Let me start with my personal view. It's all a tempest in a teapot. Pixel camming is not real life photography. They aren't remotely the same. What I see on my screen is not real. It's a cartoon of reality. But let's get a few misconceptions out of the way too.

Real world photography

Several comparisons were made in the comments to the post about photography in real life. Other than my opinion that any comparisons are bogus, a few things need to be made clear. In the US, there is no simple "right to privacy" with respect to photography. As a photographer, I am free to pretty much take pictures of anyone, anytime, anywhere (with a few exceptions). If I can see you from a public space, or from a space I have the right to be on, I can take your picture.

The issue is what can I do with a picture of you once taken. In the US, I cannot use your image for commercial purposes without your permission IF it clearly identifies you and you are a primary subject of the photograph. If you are in a public crowd scene, you are fair game. If you are involved in something "newsworthy", such as a car accident or bank robbery, your image is again fair game (there are exceptions for minors). If I'm using it as art, it's fair game.

Kim Komando has a pretty good article about what's legal and what isn't for photography.

Virtual photography in Second Life

So how does this apply to Second Life?? Well even if we could apply real life law to SL situations, we're still faced with problems.

First of all, what's public and what's private? As it stands, unless you flag your parcel as limited access (ie. group or avatar list using banlines), then your parcel is public. That's the way privacy works in SL. There isn't any. And even if your parcel is private, as long as someone can stand on a public parcel within camera distance of your house or sexgen bed, they can see into it. Linden Lab's official viewer allows the camera function to fly literally anywhere -- underground, inside walls, even inside your avatar's head. And yes, right on top of you two on the purple sex bed doing Wild Thing menu selection #12. (STOP THAT NOW!!)

So the Lab has given us the tools to see just about anything, anytime. Want to stay out of view? Then either don't do it or get yourself a private island sim.

OK so what do the Lab's TOS say about all this? Well, as usual, not much. Here's the official verbiage:
Residents are entitled to a reasonable level of privacy with regard to their Second Lives. Screenshots or video taken without permission, in an area where Residents reasonably expect privacy, might violate Linden Lab's rules against disclosure; or, more generally, might constitute harassment.
The keywords are "might" and "reasonable expectation of privacy". I would argue that expecting privacy in a home on a public parcel is neither practical (given the tools the Lab has provided) nor particularly reasonable. However, assuming one believes they have been "photographed" unreasonably, one has to file an Abuse Report and the Lab has to determine that a violation has occurred. Hmmmmm. First you have to KNOW that you were photographed. Second, that photo has to be abusive or harassing. Third you have to file. And finally, the Lab has to agree with you.

That's a lot of work for preserving your cartoon's right to privacy. Can you imagine it?
"But JUDGE, JiggyCameraGuy360 Snowpaw was taking pictures of my human avatar, HugeBoobies Biggers, having sex with PurpleFurryGuy Heartsdale!! That's a violation of my personal privacy rights!"
Sigh. And then what are the legal damages?

So back to the Peek360 app itself. One can parcel ban the bot used (Paparazzi Artful) or disallow scripts. That keeps the bot itself away from your parcel and from being able to center the camera on your coordinates. It still won't stop the bot if lands next door and captures you on your deck all nakey on one of it's passes. But in reality, the chances of you being caught by this are about the same as getting caught the same way by Google Earth. Slim and none. In fact, in every single Peek360 view I've seen, avatars have been completely absent.

The real solution to privacy in Second Life

Technology to the rescue? The best solution I've seen is to allow the creation of so-called "privacy zones" or "privacy basements" on parcels that function independently of the region or parcel access settings. The are a number of ways to achieve this. Some have asked for privacy prims that function as virtual walls that you can't see into or out of with chat restricted to inside. Others have asked for spaces underground that duplicate the shape of the parcel and function in the same way -- no camming in or out, chat restricted and access restricted.

Here's one JIRA for the privacy zone concept.

Either way, having a solution like this would eliminate a LOT of SL issues. If Second Life had parcel privacy flagging for access and viewing then the entire Zindra adult continent move would have been completely unnecessary.

A final thought

While I fully understand that people's avatars become mental extensions of themselves, there's a point at which you have to draw the line between real life and virtual life. Whatever it is you see on your monitor in Second Life is NOT YOU. It is your imagination. And maybe that's why people get so touchy about it!


  1. Yup, you pretty well encapsulated all the salient issues and I would wholly concur with your conclusion. And thanks for the heads up that my partner's being seeing Purplefurryguy behind my back....again

    *And for the love of God please lock this thread at a 100 comments ;-)

  2. LOL, yeah where is Lexie when you need her! ;)

  3. One thing to be noted however is that some people want the privacy because they use their parcels for content creation. They wouldn't want someone spying to see what they're making, and beat them to the punch, which is a valid concern. Google "corporate espionage". Virtual stuff or not, privacy is privacy and everyone is entitled to it.


All thoughts are welcome.