Not a member yet? Register for full benefits!

Germany Declares War on Second Life

This has been a strange week for physical / virtual country relations. In a series of news reports from around the globe, the interactions between the physical, European country Germany, and the virtual, cyberspace country Second Life, have been growing more warlike and antagonistic by the day.

Source: The Register, 5th May 2007 00:25 GMT

A study released by digital census takers comScore shows that Germans make up 16 per cent of Second Life residents, making them the largest country of origin in that virtual world.

Between January and March, a 70 per cent population explosion of Deutschlanders placed them above US residents, the former population leader, by approximately 2,000 people.

In March, about 1.3 million people logged into Second Life, according to comScore. Of those people, 209k were German, 207k were from the US, 167k were in the Asia Pacific and 104k were from France.

The total population increased by 46 per cent from January to March. Sixty one per cent hailed from Europe, and 19 per cent from North America.

This sudden influx of German residents into Second Life, to the point that they eclipsed any other single natyionality, including the one native to the developing company, Linden Labs, truly set the stage for the German government's profound interest in the activities of their citizenry within this virtual space.

Source: BBC News, 9th May 2007, 10:35 GMT

Second Life is being investigated by German police following allegations that some members are trading child abuse images in the online world.

The investigation follows a report by a German TV news programme which uncovered the trading group and members who pay for sex with virtual children.

The police are now trying to identify the Second Life members involved.

Linden Lab, the creator of Second Life, said it would help identify users and pass on details to prosecutors.

The investigation was carried out by Nick Schader from the Report Mainz news programme who is also a member of Second Life.

Mr Schader was asked to pay to attend meetings where virtual and real child pornography was being shown.

Members of this group also offered to put him in touch with traders of real child pornography.

The investigation also uncovered so called "age play" groups that revolve around the abuse of virtual children.

Information gathered during the report was passed to the prosecutor's office in Halle who said it hoped to track down the German Second Life user who shared the images of virtual child pornography.

Peter Vogt, the prosecutor in the Halle, told the Deutsche Presse-Agentur agency: "I assume we are going to catch this user fairly quickly."

Under Germany law possession of "virtual" child pornography is punishable by up to three years in jail.

This is where things start to get sticky. Which actual set of laws is involved here? Second Life is nominally based in the US, but has members from all over the world. As the comScore report showed, hundreds of thousands from all different countries with entirely different sets of laws.

Child pornography is truly reprehensible, of that there is no doubt. However, it can occur anywhere, online or off. To take the stance of blaming the virtual world management when it crops up there, is as wrong as it would be to directly blame the german government for a stash in a private house in Berlin.

Another issue that rears up is what happens if the person responsible turns out to physiccally reside in an Asian country where perhaps they have no laws against this sort of thing - unlikely but it is possible. This kind of issue crosses many physical country borders, even if it only crosses one virtual country border.

Splinter Issues: Age Play Concerns

Source: The Guardian , 9th May 2007,,2075340,00.html

German prosecutors have launched an investigation to find anonymous participants of the online computer game Second Life, who are reportedly buying sex with other players posing as children, as well as offering child pornography for sale.

Investigators in the city of Halle are acting on specific information about a German Second Life player, or avatar, who put child pornography images up for sale and paid for sex with underage players or players posing as minors.

"We are trying to find out the identity of this person," Peter Vogt, chief prosecutor from the central office against child pornography told German television. " What is being offered is nothing short of child pornography."

Those under 18 are banned from the adult area of Second Life and adults are banned from the "Teen Area", but critics say in reality it is impossible to check the ages of participants. Some players dress up as child figures, but with no sexual motivation, purchasing "skins" to make them look like minors. But so-called "age play", in which players request sex with other players who dress up as child avatars, has encouraged a growth in players posing as children in order to make money.

Despite Second Life not allowing membership to the main world, to anyone below the age of 18, allegations of 'child rape' have started to circulate, based on sexual relations between adult avatars anbd child avatars - despite both sides being adults.

The first question that has to be asked at this point, is how can a sexual act that takes place in a graphics and text VR world - one with no haptic feedback, ergo no actual sex organ use - and one in which both parties are consentual, and over the age of consent for their respective physical countries be considered 'child rape' in any way, shape or form?

Second Life Actions


Source: Ars Technica, May 09, 2007 - 11:43PM CT

Linden Lab has no way to verify age—until now, that is. The company announced via its blog late last week that they will "shortly" begin testing an age and identity verification system that will require residents to provide some sort of real-life proof of their age in order to access "mature" content in the virtual world. Residents who wish to verify their age in Second Life will be required to pay an unspecified fee and provide information such as name, date of birth, address, passport, the last four digits of their Social Security numbers, or other national ID numbers.

Previous to this announcement, residents of Second Life were required to be over 18 in order to access the virtual environment at all.

However, the ages of the participants were self-reported, and as Second Life has become more popular, more children have made their way into the game. Although the Second Life team closes the accounts of those who are reported to be under 18, the company writes that "as the community grows and the attractions of Second Life become more widely known, we’ve decided to add an additional layer of protection."

Members who "own" land that hosts adult content will be required to flag it as such. The flag will then prevent anyone who has not verified themselves with the system as over 18 from entering. "Landowners are morally and legally responsible for the content displayed and the behavior taking place on their land," the company writes. There are no explicit guidelines defining adult content, and the blog posting acknowledges that they will rely on some degree of self-regulation in this area. "If Residents and businesses attempt to violate this rule, we expect that such behavior will be reported by the community... in the event we encounter abuses of self-regulation, Second Life may have to require age-verification throughout the world. We hope that does not happen."

In order to cater to the younger population, Linden Lab has created Teen Second Life for those under 18. Teen Second Life will be closed off to anyone who is over 18, and the teens in the virtual world will not be allowed out into the rest of Second Life.

Linden Lab is careful to point out that members will not be required to verify their age in order to get in. Those members who wish to stay "anonymous" and keep their identities to themselves will still be able to wander around in the regular Second Life, but not access the adult areas, or the "under 18" areas, for that matter.

Ultimately, the new age verification rules will split up Second Life into a teen level, a "regular" Second Life level, and a adult level. Some critics have called into question the effectiveness of an age verification measure, arguing that children will still be able to gain access to adult content through the self-regulating nature of the adult filter, thereby defeating the entire purpose of the verification process. It also does not address the issue of members verifying themselves and then selling the account to someone else who is not able to be verified.

For its part though, Linden Lab can point to its efforts, and at least say "we tried" the next time a scandal hits.

The end result of this particular strife between the physical and virtual worlds is that Second Life has relented to what is in effect, an utterly unwieldy and unworkable 'age verification system', that is easily bypassed. Nothing is really solved, since the virtual world was not at fault in the first place.

This marks a continuing trend to legislate the virtual, based on the actions of a few in the physical.

Surely it would make more sense to punish the criminals themselves, rather than blaming the environment for actions of people beyond it's control?

Staff Comments


Untitled Document .