When I wrote my last article, Being Bad For Great Justice: A New Privacy Scandal Rocks Second Life, and sent it upstairs to the folks that post it, I sent in a warning that things would, sooner or later, get ugly over the topic. Not surprisingly from where I sit, that wound up being sooner rather than later.
Things got very heated in comments, which was to be expected, but perhaps a bit confusing to anyone who wasn't closely following the story as it had been unfolding, or was not very familiar with how virtual worlds work in general (also expected, but unfortunate – there was no really good way to simplify this easily). There were some comments that wound up getting unanswered, mostly because I was close to having to write this week's section anyway and planned to get into the topics raised here this week (so please don't take it personally).
Anyway, that story is still ongoing. It gets ever uglier, frankly, with more and more accusations coming from every side. There is no particular resolution in sight, and the nastiness just keeps on coming (though admittedly, it would be awesome if it weren't coming *here*). I expect things to get worse before they get better. Much worse.
Even though the aticle I wrote last week did not actually touch upon the JLU itself until the last 25%, and at no time condoned griefing whatsoever, I was nonetheless accused of being a griefer myself in comments by a JLU supporter (or member, or junior member, or alt, or something). Which brings me to my first point.
Define Your Terms
Defining your terms is important. It allows everyone to speak about a thing and actually be communicating the same ideas. When you don't define them, you wind up arguing over what they mean.
I have also found that people like to change what things mean to suit themselves, particularly when they feel like calling someone nasty names. Whilst watching this story unfold, many people (self included) have noticed that the JLU (and their supporters) apparently aren't quite sure what the word "griefer" means, because they keep stretching its boundaries farther and farther, even to include anyone who doesn't support them and says so in a public forum, and nothing more. Let us review:
In my personal case this is really laughable, as I not only rarely leave my own sim, but I rarely leave my own house on my own sim, and I go way out of my way to interact with as few people as possible. The best possible day for me in SL is one where I don't have to talk to anyone, so I can just work quietly by myself (OK, that's my best possible day in RL too).
I am by no stretch of the definition a griefer. But not only am I by no stretch a griefer, there are others who aren't either - but are certainly being labeled that way by the JLU and their supporters simply for speaking out against them. When all you have is a hammer, as the saying goes, everything begins to look like a nail.
Ironically, the second half of that same comment referred to the JLU as a "peacekeeping organization". Whilst I'm quite sure they believe this to be true, a simple look around at the current landscape would show that not only is there no peace to be found, but there is an increasing war mounting that stems directly from the escalating tactics between the JLU and the (actual) griefers themselves (whose activities, by the way I never supported to begin with), with more and more collateral damage happening to people who are in the middle, as anyone who doesn't agree with the JLU and its handling of its "mission" (their word, not mine) gets lumped in with their enemies. It seems that the target of the griefers is primarily (though by no means completely) the JLU themselves. The JLU seems to think their target is not only the griefers, but anyone who doesn't support the JLU.
The Original Accusations
But how this specific story began was with, depending on your perspective either a leak or a hack (pick whichever suits your mindset best). A large number of IP addresses matched to SL usernames (the IPs munged for privacy) was published by someone calling themselves TheListSL, on this website. TheListSL claims that the IP addresses were obtained as so:
"The IP database is extracted from the JLU's "secure" PhantomZone. This is solid proof that the JLU are harvesting your IP's and linking them to your avatar for whatever use they see fit."
The JLU absolutely, unequivocally, firmly and stridently deny this - and I will get back to that in a second, but let's understand what Phantom Zone is. The most basic description is it's a virtual land security device, that allows a choice of both linked (global) and single banning functions. I am sure it does lots of other things (hell, maybe it makes coffee!), but that's the simplest description and it will do for purposes of this discussion.
However, the accusation TheListSL is making is serious, because if it is true, that means that bascially, Phantom Zone is nothing more than RedZone revisited. I reiterate, the JLU firmly, stidently and in the most clear terms has said that the Phantom Zone device does not log IP addresses.
Phantom Zone is not being sold by anyone, to anyone. In fact, that is one of the things that the JLU cites as "a show of good faith" (which really is no proof of that at all - in fact, it could be to avoid liability just as easily). It is given away freely by the JLU to whomever they think should have one - but they (The JLU) come and set it up. They have admin rights to it. And there is quite a bit of discussion going on regarding the JLU's ability to override a sim owner's wishes in regards to a ban, either adding or removing a ban through a "League Override". Though its name has an unfortunate (and not altogether poorly placed) similarity to RedZone, the name actually comes from a comic book reference. which makes sense, given the source.
However, once this initial IP address dump happened, TheListSL continued, by leaking pieces of an absolutely enormous wiki document, maintained by the JLU, called the Brainiac Wiki (or bwiki for short). It is within *that* document that a massive volume of information was discovered, including evidence of the collection and storage of personal RL information including medical information, data about people's families and home life (including children) and an incredible amount of very, very, ugly conversations the JLU have had amongst themselves.
That leak is still ongoing, with more and more data coming out daily, including the fact that the JLU (as a group, individuals may vary of course) actively supports the concept of alt matching and detection, and were rather vocal supporters of RedZone. It has also been made clear that they are linked to the "SL Police Department", who have been running an IP grabbing device (which throws media calls up against any viewer with a media filter) since before RedZone was banned, and apparently never stopped doing it even after Linden Lab changed the Second Life TOS.
So, for the JLU to claim that the Phantom Zone device *ITSELF* does not collect IP addresses may well be the case (at least now - they also admit that an earlier version did do that), but it is equally clear that they support, in principle, IP/Avatar name matching. Their ONLY concern is that they do not violate TOS to do it *themselves*. While this is a technicality, it is their primary concern- to obey the *letter* of the TOS, even if they can manage to violate its spirit in every other way.
Therefore, TheListSL claims that the IP/name correlation came from PhantomZone. The JLU claim (unequivocally and absolutely) that this is simply not true. So how do we know where this data came from? The answer is that we don't - and that's really the JLU's fault.
The Dirt Under The Rug
The JLU's claim is that this data never came from them. In fact, they believe that this data was planted - gathered by an enemy of theirs and blamed on them, for the purposes of stirring public opinion against them. Early on in this story, the leader of the JLU, KalEl Venkman, created a JIRA, asking the Lab itself to test PhantomZone and determine that it was not doing any logging of IP addresses. The Lab declined to do this, as it cannot be ready to examine and vet every scripted object for safety. But the JLU keep repeating a comment in that JIRA which came from Soft Linden, as follows:
"I'll comment on the more general issue that's triggered this whole brouhaha, since this JIRA has been linked from blogs and forums –
Working backward from the list of Second Life residents (SL term: resi) in the recently published resi IP list, I was able to build a list of the locations visited by a large share of those resis. Working from the location list, I pulled historic simulator states for those locations and found several of the IP collection probes.
The operator is affiliated with a large group of resis who were previously banned from SL, and who were told they were not allowed to return. I've referred that to Governance. It's up to Governance whether they blacklist, ban, or warn. I suspect their action will be swift on this one, given the prior history.
I also see that members of a "policing" group acknowledge having operated their own IP collectors. They claim they stopped collecting around the time Red Zone was removed from SL. I've asked the policing group for confirmation and details while I'm doing my own research, and I've referred that to Governance as well. It's pretty clear that if they did/do have their own collection, it's not the same as the recently published set.
How you can help:
If anyone finds an object that's still making suspicious media requests to a third-party site, or back to an object on the simulator itself, please file an Abuse Report against the actual object. You can assume we'll have heard about any second-hand reports that you see circulating in blogs and forums - reporting those just muddies up the AR lists. Governance gets very few legitimate first-hand reports about these probes. These are the smoking guns that can help Governance act more swiftly."
Two issues arise:
1. The "policing group" of which Soft speaks is still throwing up media calls as late as this past week. None of the accounts which have clearly violated post RedZone TOS changes have been pulled from the grid. But speaking of smoking guns...
2. The bit that says "The operator is affiliated..." is the source of raging debate. The griefers claim that Soft Linden cannot be trusted. That he is at best, ignoring, and at worst, in active collusion with the JLU (this was angrily debated in comments last week).
The JLU say that this statement by Soft Linden exonerates them, as they are obviously not banned from the grid, so it had to come from someone in one of the large griefer groups.
Problem is this: The JLU at at least one point in the past obtained Full Permissions objects from people they don't like (see: griefers), and want to see removed from the grid. The purpose of obtaining these objects was (their words) "in case we want to use them for black ops.", which would be short for "frame people for stuff they didn't do." Considering that griefers are generally all too happy to tell you what they did, the fact that they are denying this one (speficically and adamantly) is curious.
Whether you believe Soft Linden or not (and I fully expect the same argument to crop up again in comments), he is unlikely to give the actual NAME of the "operator" in question in any public forum. This leaves nothing more than a "they said this, and the other guys said that" issue- which would look a lot better for the JLU if they werent grabbing full perm objects from their enemies in case they wanted to use them for nefarious purposes later. Because of this action, their claim that they didn't create this initial data carries no more weight than anyone else's claims to the contrary.
In short, the source of the data cannot be definitively determined at this time, but something definitely doesn't add up about this initial accusation story- and that's really bothering me.
But there is an interesting thing about that IP dump. It's that with so many names on it... The only JLU member is KalEl Venkman.
Riddle Me This
The reason why this particular fact is interesting is because it's been brought up by the JLU as a sign of their innocence. If the objects that logged all these names/IP addresses were coming from places the JLU regularly travels, why is only one JLU member's name in the database? Wouldn't that clearly show that this had to come from a source other than them?
Actually, getting whatever the object was to ignore a person or specific group of people is not difficult. People do that every day with greeters (devices that deliver a message upon arrival at a location) and security orbs (as you can whitelist people there too). So ignoring people isn't difficult at all, and the one name that is on the list could easily be there from a test to make sure the device worked.
But what about the claim that because none of the JLU members names were on it, it proved that it was griefers who created the database? That's possible technically (for the same reasons), but it makes little sense logically, as the one group of people the griefers might actually BE interested in tracking are the members of the JLU themselves. For them to ignore this specific group of people seems entirely counterproductive to their aims.
Though so much data has come out since this initial IP dump and a lot of ugliness has ensued (and continues to roll on with no sign of stopping), I am still focused on this initial issue. It is KNOWN that griefers do bad things. Not only is it known but they seem to not only be all too happy to tell you they've done them, but explain how they were done, if you ask. It doesn't seem like they're particularly interested in keeping their activities a secret. But the JLU claims to be a force for good (the griefers make no such claim), and yet the amount of damning data that has been uncovered about them is staggering.
Two weeks ago, I had never heard of the list of organized griefer groups in SL, and the only time I've ever laid eyes on the JLU was on Help Island in 2008 when I first got my account. It's sort of like learning about an ongoing war you didn't realize existed before.
Because this inevetably comes up when any controversial topic arises, MY interest is in knowing *what happened* and who did what. My RL ID is already known. It's right at the top of the page. What I want is an accurate accounting of events- no matter which side they damn. I figure most people are perfectly capable of deciding for themselves who the good guys are - if there are any good ones at all.
Meet Your Favorite Search Engine Watch Contributors
Many of SEW's leading expert contributors will be at ClickZ Live, the new online and digital marketing event kicking off in New York (March 31-April 3). Hear from the likes of: Thom Craver, Josh Braaten, Lisa Barone, Simon Heseltine, Josh McCoy, Lisa Raehsler, Greg Jarboe, Dan Cristo, Joseph Kerschbaum, John Gagnon, Eric Enge and more!