Criticism of Second Life
Due to constant development, and as an open environment accessible by almost anyone with access to the Internet, a number of difficult issues have arisen around Second Life. Issues range from the technical (budgeting of server resources) to moral (pornography), legal (legal position of the Linden Dollar, Bragg v. Linden Lab) and, in September 2006, security (customer security).
- 1 Technical
- 2 Content
- 3 International issues
- 4 Litigation
- 5 Other
- 6 References
- 7 External links
Criticism of quality assurance of Second Life states 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 users, was sent to Linden Lab to protest the quality assurance process of the company. Linden Lab has responded to the open letter.
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. The problem is largely due to the fact that the world is entirely user created, and the majority of content created by users is made without any sort of basic graphical optimization. As a result, objects with both unnecessarily high polygon counts, and unnecessarily high resolution textures are prevalent. It is not uncommon for users to have to download and use upwards of dozens of times the amount of resources than would actually be required for the equivalent visual result. Certain areas have guidelines for script usage, which helps reduce reduce lag by reducing resources used server-side, but does nothing to alleviate the primary issue above.
A single region (65536 m2 of land hosted on a single CPU) is set to accommodate a limited number of Residents (40 on 'mainland' regions, up to 100 on private islands), 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.
The control scheme for Second Life combines controls useful for 3D editing with those useful for game play, which can be highly unintuitive for many. This requires 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.
The policy allowing the easy creation of multiple accounts by the same real person was attributed to degraded system performance, and increased incidence of griefing. The ability for a single real individual to create an unlimited number of accounts for free could have the effect of highly exaggerating the "residence" figures. Blogs and forum posts regularly allege exaggerated membership and performance claims.
Isolation and addiction
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Another controversial point about Second Life is the notion that users can be mentally addicted to the game. There are many different posts on a variety of different forums with relating posts of users being addicted to Second Life, from all age groups. Games such as Second Life may facilitate escapism, which may exacerbate pre-existing addictive tendencies. While large groups of people[who?] believe that children are most at risk to this level of addiction, adults have been found to have the most severe cases. There are forums where posts about addiction can be read.
MIT technology and society professor Sherry Turkle claims in her 2011 book Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other that social media, such as Second Life can cause a state of isolation. She writes: "What's wrong with the new and artistic world of computer games? Nothing is wrong with them. But looking to games for amusement is one thing. Looking to them for a life is another.”  Referring from interviews with children to adults, Turkle believes that people find solace in being with “sociable robots” in order to compensate a missing human interaction. She illustrates her point by referring to a 46-year-old interviewee, who thinks that he has a better relationship to his anonymous wife in Second Life than to his real wife in the offline world. The fact that Pete felt more accepted and happy in the online world caused an isolation in his real life.
Content removal without verification
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In certain DMCA-related cases, the entire set of objects with a certain name has been removed from Second Life irrespective from the fact they were not related to the genuinely objectionable copyright materials. Examples include the removal of everything named 'cylon' as the name is related to Battlestar Galactica science-fiction robots; several items not related to Battlestar Galactica in any way were removed as well without Linden Lab verifying that the content was actually in violation of the copyright or trademark.
Linden Lab has failed to address the Scunthorpe Problem resulting in random non-refunded financial harm to some users[who?] who had a genuine reason to use the 'cylon' name, as well as 'hello kitten' as a non-cat-related sex device in relation to the anime cat logo 'hello kitty').
Retroactive removal or destruction of content
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Linden Lab has also removed certain "megaprims" (building components which exploit the content engine to be larger than allowed) across tens of thousands of constructions in the process of fixing certain bugs, so that a large part of builds were permanently damaged.
Linden Lab has a process to have users petition and reverse such changes, but the resulting objects are occasionally permanently damaged.
In Second Life, people can do almost anything that they can do in their physical lives. There are some people who do things they do normally, e.g., talk to people, while others do things that they wouldn't normally do in the physical world.
Some media attention has been given to sexual activity involving avatars with a childlike appearance. The United Kingdom and Germany 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.
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). Linden Lab responded by issuing a statement that any "depiction of sexual or lewd acts involving minors" was a bannable offence.
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. Linden Lab pointed out that the virtual world is not meant for children (people under the age of 18) because of the mature content and what happens within second life. However, minors aged between 13-17 can access second life, but they will be restricted to what they can see or do based on age. The second life world is split into sections/worlds and each one is given a maturity rating similar to films; General, Moderate and Adult . Minors aged 16–17 can access worlds etc. that have moderate content, whereas minors aged 13–15 will be restricted to only being able to go to 'Private' worlds where things are monitored and screened more for their protection/ safety.
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Until July 25, 2007, gambling was allowed in both PG and Mature regions; however, gambling was prohibited in the Teen Grid until its closure. Gambling was most commonly conducted using scripted gambling machines created by residents. As content in Second Life is user-generated, gambling machines were unregulated - therefore, it was 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. However, no legal action has ever been taken on this basis.
However, gambling machines continue to exist in Second Life, as long as they satisfy the legal loophole of being "skill-based". For example, slot machines typically have a limited "bump" option to push a specific reel up or down, despite the possible results being entirely based on chance. Some games also require some arbitrary skill-based component which is required to play, much like how lotto tickets in some countries have questions such as "5+10=_?" which must be answered to collect winnings.
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; 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 tools. 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 strictly forbidden anywhere on the grid. It is possible to perpetrate DoS (Denial of Service) attacks on other users simply by scripting objects that spew screen filling characters from anywhere on the grid to another avatar's user ID, thereby disabling a clear view to the virtual world, but such attacks are now blocked with the use of the "mute" tool. It is also possible to exploit bugs in the client and server software, which can be used to kick users, crash servers, and revert content; however, such exploits are rare and quickly fixed by Linden Lab.
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.
Any user who uploads, publishes or submits any content keeps the intellectual property rights of that content, however both Linden Lab and other users gain their own rights from your content. Linden Lab receives a content license from anything a user uploads to the server. Section 7.3 of the Second Life Terms of Service states; "you hereby automatically grant Linden Lab a non-exclusive, worldwide, royalty-free, sub-license able, and transferable licence to use, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display, and perform the content solely for the purpose of providing and promoting the service". A user who uploads their content to a public area also gives a content licence to other users as well, which allows other users to replicate and record for use in Machinima (as outlined in section 7.4, Snapshot and Machinima Policy).
Regardless of what rights and licences are given, Linden Lab takes no responsibility for the outcome of any dispute between users or the server regarding content. Section 10.2 states; "you release Linden Lab (and its officers, directors, shareholders, agents, subsidiaries, and employees) from claims, demands, losses, liabilities and damages (actual and consequential) of every kind nature, known and unknown, arising out of or in any way connected with any dispute you have or claim to have with one or more users, including whether or not Linden Lab becomes involved in any resolution or attempted resolution of the dispute". Section 10.3 repeats a similar passage but regarding the responsibility of Linden Lab during any data or technical fault.
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. However, no actual prosecutions have resulted from actions of this type so far.
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, 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).
Bragg v. Linden Lab
In 2006, attorney Marc Bragg sued Linden Lab, claiming that it had illegally deprived him of access to his account 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. The case eventually ended with Bragg's virtual land and account being restored to him in a confidential out-of-court settlement. 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, leading to speculation that this was part of the reason for the settlement.
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. However it was later revealed that the hacker had in fact been focused on trying to cheat the in-world money system and their access to personal information was believed incidental, although a full alert was still raised for safety's sake.
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. 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.
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.
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. Since then, several small Internet-based organizations have claimed some responsibility for instigating the riots.
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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 Lab 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 caused a major amount of negative publicity and funded potential litigation.
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Linden Lab has been accused[who?] of 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).
Previously, there were two age-differentiated grids (one for teens 13-17, one for adults 18 or over). When a teen turned 18, he/she was transferred from the Teen Grid to the Main Grid. Linden Lab had received controversy for the lack of integration between teens and adults. The teen grid and the adult grid actually were technically parts of one grid called Agni, due to Second Life's tradition of naming grids after Hindu gods. However, teen residents could not access the adult regions, and adult residents could not access the teen regions. Underage users, who were under 18 in real life, were not allowed onto the main grid, and being an underage user there was an offense that could be abuse reported.
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 Main and Teen Grids were merged, with the Teen Grid being partially split up by age. Residents aged 13-15 are only allowed to access supervised, limited areas run mostly by educational institutions, while residents aged 16 & 17 are allowed to access only General-rated areas of the Main Grid. The Teen Grid continues to exist in its original location on the Agni, but is now accessible by all residents.
Second Life Main Grid regions are rated either "General", "Moderate", or "Adult" (previously "PG", "Mature", or "Adult"). Builds, textures, actions, animations, chat, or businesses that are of an adult nature are regulated by the Second Life Terms of Service to only occur in simulators with a Moderate or Adult rating. General 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 "mainland" continent named Zindra in response to its other "mainland" continents being mostly General.
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