Saturday, September 29, 2007

Shanghai Sling

Prok has been raising hell about handing Chinese dissidents in Sl over to the Chinese authorities. Let's examine this!

First, we have to consider that in SL, I highly doubt that a Chinese dissident will run around openly broadcasting his/her dissension. More likely, it will be an underground movement through SL, perhaps with a public face but with most of it hidden from view.

Consider that first we have to make sure that the prospective dissident is, in fact, in China. Remember, we're not stifling opposition to China, we're rounding up opposers living in China. China, like everything else in there, heavily monitors its internet traffic, enough that Wikipedia has a policy where you are allowed to use anonymizers (you're normally banned for using one).
So, we have to cut through their web of proxies first. Meaning that China would be asking LL to do a job that they obviously haven't cracked yet, since they're asking LL to do it. If they were in a position to crack down on dissenters themselves, they'd do so and avoid the publicity of asking LL (risking exposing themselves to SL's notoriously anal, responsive, and loud world).

They risk, however, a 'Spartacus' movement, where a bunch of people will claim to also be in China, or using proxies that label them as in China, in order to defend their dissident friends (which I'm sure they will have). LL would be flooded with processing whether these people are telling the truth or not, if you think they wouldn't be, well just take a look at their current procedures for everything else, their wonderful implementation of grey goo griefer fences being the most notable.

And that's just trying to pin down an IP address, which I'm sure would pin point a very public internet cafe or city wide network and thus be unable to be shut down without severely pissing off the population. Let's say for the ease and avoidance of such a scenario, China asks for some names. Uh oh.

For while it's against the TOS to give false information when creating an account or providing billing info, in practice the Lindens only enforce this in matters where they've been directly defrauded or risk a lawsuit (credit card theft, let's say, freezing the 'stolen' account). Because in practice you'd have to hunt down 600,000 or so users who gave addresses as '123 Fake Street' or listed their last name as 'BiteMe'. And I highly doubt Mr. BiteMe lives at 123 Fake Street in Shanghai.

Okay then, just ban the accounts, right? That'll kill two birds with one stone: no need to turn over people to Chinese authorities, and no need to deal with the pesky dissenters causing the ruckus in the first place! Wonderful compromise! Except, we can make free alts on brand new accounts. You'd have the same problem we have with griefers now: How do we build a wall of China that lets people in freely while blocking out the Huns? In SL, you can't. The Lindens have been trying for years now with this problem on griefers, and now if they do it with dissidents as Prokofy suggests, they'd only exacerbate the problem.

What will end up happening is that LL may fool China for a few months, maybe a year, if China ever presses them on it, which may happen as did with Google. Eventually, China will realize the Lindens are giving them the run-around, and will likely just close off all access to Second life. So what? I can hear you saying. Well, imagine if the entire state of California was booted out of SL. That's what. An increasingly significant portion of our population is Chinese, a portion we just can't throw out with the bathwater. I'm not a fan of slippery slope arguments, but this easily could be taken as a precedent as well, as other countries may attempt to pull something similar (imagine if the Dutch had done so while investigating or prosecuting SL).

The point is, that this may be a pointed topic at LL. They do not have the power to rat out the dissidents. Any discussion of this must realize this fact. It is unavoidable, and central to it as with the griefer issue. Because of the way SL is set up and run, neither will be able to be blocked or traced through Second Life.

So, we have to theorize what will happen in the crystal ball. We could always assume that China will ignore SL, and promote HiPhiHi and attempt to force that to its will. That still leaves the elephant in the room, however. We're trying to control and stop these dissidents, not shove them into the outside world and get eggs on our faces, right?

LL could try to bluff their way out of it. Make a few examples of some, threaten the rest. It worked with ageplayers to varying degrees, and didn't stop the griefers at all. The likelihood of it working now is about the same chance as a chasm in Wisconsin opening up and creating a stairway directly to Hell, on which Elvis will climb and return. That is to say, zero.
And of course we've discussed the 'China just bans SL from every point in its hemisphere' option that will likely occur.

So what have the Lindens been discussing on this impending issue? Any group huddles, or at least long range plans? Let's listen into a recent Robin Linden office meeting where she commented on the subject ( in response to one resident's question on what LL would do if China did come a knockin'):

Robin Linden: The problem is ... that I believe those situations will have to be dealt with as they come up.

Robin Linden: I don't think we can make a blanket statement about how we would address such a request.

Robin Linden: It would depend on what they ask for, and who asks for it.

Robin Linden: You guys, it's not about free speech. Just courtesy.

Robin Linden: Honestly? Talked about what we would do SHOULD the chinese government come calling?

Listen to Robin's words. Read them again. Not about free speech? Courtesy? Haven't thought or talked about this yet? It reminds me of checking one's balance when you know you used the ol' credit cards a bit too often. On a good day, you open the envelope and you take what comes. On a bad day, you leave it on the desk, and it just sits and sits. The Lindens are treating RL governmental intrusions into SL as bad credit. They know they'll have to do something about it, and they've had a few close shaves before, but they're not really prepared when the repo depot rolls up their driveway.

I find this a tad scary.


Nalin Nungesser said...

Good point...Robin's comments do leave quite a bit to be desired. They don't have a long term solution for this, and the Chinese government is probably getting ready to crack down hard.

The bluffing certainly doesn't work; ageplay still continues, griefing continues like hell. Certainly, I don't believe that SL would ever rat out political dissidents, unless they came up with an SL police force that rounds up dissidents and bans them.

Frankly, turning a blind eye may be the best option for SL.

daiyo said...

This sounds very much like a catch-22 scenario. Either way, second life is fucked.

Nalin, turning a blind eye may be the best option, but the chinese will still be on them to do something about it. Although, I disagree with Anna that china will notice the lindens are not doing anything at all. As you noted, ageplay continues but it certainly took the heat off when europe was getting ready to prosecute lindens for child porn.

Bluffing won't work in dealing with the problem itself, but bluffing will blind the chinese to the fact that the lindens arent doing anything at all.