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Protect Kids or Protect Identities?

Here's the dilemma: In a virtual world, where a 14-year-old can pretend to be 40 or, worse yet, a 40-year-old can pretend to be 14, how do you protect the innocent? That's an issue that could be facing Second Life, the popular adults-only virtual world that has a growing number of areas marked as "mature," or having adult content.

Just as they're not allowed to drink, smoke or view pornography, minors aren't allowed to join Second Life. But, we can probably assume that a few have gotten around the registration process, which simply requires the user to promise that he or she is over age 18. Now, Second Life is testing a second layer of protection, which requires its "residents" who want to enter an adult area to prove their age.

Second Life parent company Linden Lab says it will work with a third-party company to conduct the age verification process. SL residents will give up name, date of birth, and address. Second Life residents in the U.S. will be asked for the last four digits of their social security numbers while non U.S. folks may need to provide a passport or national ID number, according to the Second Life blog.

As Mitch Wagner at Information Week points out in a blog entry this week, this is exactly the type of information that identity thieves love. And even though SL says the data will only be used at the time of age verification and won't be stored... well, it's hard to look past the number of laptops with personal information that have been stolen from people that should be trusted - such as government agencies.

Second Life notes that only those who want to enter "mature" areas will have to go through the age verification process.

By Sam Diaz  |  May 7, 2007; 6:40 PM ET  | Category:  Sam Diaz
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Why is it anyone else's job to protect my kids? If I am not monitoring what my children are doing and who they are corresponding with on the internet, how does the blame fall on MySpace or Second Life or anyone else? It sounds like it should be my problem.

We need to stop counting on the government, the television networks, content providers, etc. to police what our kids doing. That should be our job as parents. It's time for us all to take some responsibility for our children.

It's sad that most parents are completely and utterly ignorant as to what their children are doing online.

Posted by: AJ | May 8, 2007 2:27 PM

Linden Labs, like many on-line community sites, do not really care about the ages of their users. Only thing that matters is advertising revenue driven by impersonal usage metrics. They get paid just the same if the SL user is an 11 year-old girl or a 40 year-old man. If the minor's parents successfully sue SL because their daughter was raped after hooking up on-line with the 40 year-old man, then SL will care, but only then.

The adult areas make SL a free porn site open to the general public, available for exploitation by pedophiles looking for our children.

To say that capturing a user's financial information will stop misuse of this porn site is a red herring. Sure Linden Labs will report an eventual hack of this 'secure' info. Every company eventually will. Financial data security is not the issue. Most kids interested in accessing porn will snoop the necessary info and get themselves into the site anyway, simply because the forbidden fruit is there. Thus the problem is not resolved.

Pretty sure guess is that Linden Labs added the adult areas as the cheapest, fastest, easiest way to make more dollars for themselves. Access by minors is just a business cost, not a concern.

Ultimately, unless SL is a pay-for-use-via-credit-card site, like World of Warcraft is, then any kid can log in free and anonymous. Haven't we learned from the MySpace example? and they didn't even advertise "mature content areas" like Linden Labs is doing.

Posted by: Retired@42 | May 8, 2007 3:04 PM

"Pretty sure guess is that Linden Labs added the adult areas as the cheapest, fastest, easiest way to make more dollars for themselves."

Actually, Second Life is a user created world, linden labs didn't *add* any of the mature stuff to it... nice try though. Honestly I do believe you people should at least try to educate yourselves just a bit before interjecting your views into something you KNOW NOTHING ABOUT.

As an SL resident for the past 2 years I *do* know something about this, and let me tell you the general concensus around SL is that if they proceed full steam ahead with this it's going to be mass scale revolt (IE we're going to go somewhere else).

As of right now I spend about 200$ US a month on SL and LindenLabs has credit information from TWO of my visa cards - I really do find it rediculous that once more instead of placing responsibility on the parents we place it on society - pathetic. In conclusion all I have to say is when all these millions of people's Identities are stolen in the great SL caper I will be standing there shacking my head more than eager to offer an "I told you so."

Posted by: Mitsuyasi Tiger | May 8, 2007 3:32 PM

Mr. Tiger,

Mr. Diaz wrote a very tactful article. Below the surface, though, is the larger question we readers who care need to address. At what point do we turn a blind eye to moral turpitude.

Yours is a fine point, which I will concede. My rephrase would still be: "Pretty sure guess is that Linden Labs *allowed* the adult areas as the cheapest, fastest, easiest way to make more dollars for themselves." Actually, I have nothing against adult sites, per se, just a problem with a *private* business providing an undisclosed attractive nuisance or dangerous condition.

There is no such thing as a user created world, unless you really believe in existentialism. Linden Labs owns the copyrighted software that *allows* all things that can happen to happen in their "world". They will defend that ownership with the best lawyers your money can buy. Yet, out of the other side of their mouths, they claim they have no control over how their software is used? Bunk. I can't use a broom for a gun, because it wasn't made to allow for such a use. I can use a sporting rifle to shoot a human, because it was made to allow for such functionality.

"...educate yourselves just a bit before interjecting your views into something you KNOW NOTHING ABOUT". Again, a fine point as I have no need for a second life; haven't played that game. Before I retired, I worked as an executive for several of the largest insurance companies in the world, underwriting the most difficult public liability risks. When Soldier of Fortune magazine was successfully sued for a classified ad they 'innocently' ran which ultimately resulted in a homicide, I paid the multi-million dollar award (upheld on appeal), not Soldier of Fortune. The judge held that SoF had a duty to its readers that went beyond their claim that they couldn't control the actions or intentions of classified advertisers. This case may still be the controlling precedent.

As of today, in all 50 states, by law, the owner of any property, real, personal, intellectual, etc., has a non delegable duty to provide a safe environment for any invitees. It is not a complicated idea. And it extends to any host. This is why ebay reacts when something illegal or grossly offensive happens on their site.

As a parent, I agree that we have personal responsibility for the influences of others on our children. We should be the arbiters of what is healthy for our own children. However, I have also raised other people's children and can say that my sense of adult responsibility does extend, in some ways, to your children also. If I saw your child in an adult novelty shop, I would say something to him/her about it. I would also rip the owners for allowing children in, even if they whine and say they can't control who visits their store. If I say to myself, that child is not mine nor my concern, I am complicit in his/her delinquency. When a mother turns a blind eye to her new husband molesting her daughter, the mother is guilty also.

As a moral user of SL, I wonder what your reaction will be the day you meet a nice person in the adult area, only to learn eventually, that you are carrying on with a precocious child. Will you even know until she/he shows up at your house as a runaway?

Posted by: Retired@42 | May 8, 2007 6:07 PM

Getting into a long winded debate over this subject on a blog response wasn't what I was looking for so this will be my last response - however I must admit I admire you completely Retired@42, coming back to correct your verbage and taking a non-confrontational approuch to the whole thing you're awesome ^^

My whole thing with it really is that LindenLabs could really go about this another way; instead of taking all my personal information and handing it over to some non-trustworthy 3rd party. I'd actually love to discuss this at length with you since you are educated and know the ins and out of the legality of the subject (or at least I assume by the nature of your posts)

As for no such thing as user created content, that's because of the blame state we live in, Second Life really is nothing more than overglorified 3d Forums if you get right down to it.

Quick Quip off of SL Forums:
"They already would like you to have a Credit Card, if a minor is willing to go to the lengths of stealing their parents CC to obtain membership, whats to stop them from digging a little deeper and grabbing that Drivers License or SS card?"

As for the minor showing up at my door after running away, hm I don't complicate my Second Life with my First Life information, you see it's a game. There may indeed be creeps there trolling for bad things, but you can probably find more at your local mall. Let's start carding at the door in any local place now! there might be non acceptable material somewhere that would upset somebody! (/end rant)

ps: It's Miss Tiger, I'm a College student :p
pps: Love you Retired@42 you should play SL! or at least log in so we can chat more about this ^^

Posted by: Mitsuyasi Tiger | May 9, 2007 3:10 PM

One final squibble! (>^^)>

True you could not use a broom to shoot somebody, but you could snap said broom in half and use the jagged point to afflict death/and or great bodily harm. Let's outlaw guns because you can use them to kill people! Hey, better get at brooms while you're at it! Better yet why not bind our arms and legs because truely if somebody is going to do something, they are going to do it.

My overlatching point is that if they are already selecting (X) Yes I am Over 18, and Using a CC they arn't gonna just roll over now that they want another form of verification. Rules are put into place to stop people who follow them, laws are put into place to stop people who break the rules, Whats the final wall to stop everything? Passing the buck makes me tired, how about we all get a bit more responsible. The ultimate (Moral) goal lies with the parents of said children, perhaps legalally its LL's fault for having something people object to, but in this day and age you literally can't even open your mouth without somebody objecting to it. (/puts away soapbox)

Posted by: Mitsuyasi Tiger | May 9, 2007 4:51 PM

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