Linden Lab wants to rebrand Second Life. I think they have bigger problems than that.

Some of you may know that Linden Lab is considering a rebranding exercise in the near future.  Most likely it will be a concerted attempt to change public opinion of Second Life from being basement dwelling sex fiends into young, cool, content creating hipsters.  I would suggest that Linden Lab has far bigger problems to content with than the opinion of a few of the gaming blogs.

Linden Lab employees have always given the impression that Linden Lab wholeheartedly despises its user base.  It must be the only company I can think of that has long-term, well established customers who openly don’t trust it and don’t expect it to act in a professional manner.  The power of the product is highlighted in that sentence. Second Life’s biggest saving grace is that most of its customers don’t care how unprofessionally it behaves as long as they are able to use it as they want and the rest will not step outside the self-imposed ghetto of the Second Life world of the platform, some second life specific forums and some blogs.  They rarely ever make their displeasure known outside of these properties and are even less likely to bring law enforcement, government or legal pressure to bear.  Linden Lab is a remarkably lucky company in that respect.  It’s even luckier with its product, in that it has even managed to survive the almost constant behaviour of its employees that from the outside looks like they are determined to bring the company into disrepute and damage it.

In the last few days we’ve seen

  • The recently employed Counsel for Linden Lab offer a settlement to the US Securities and Exchange Commission for an investigation that has been ongoing since 2007. I would have thought that if due diligence had been undertaken before taking Ms Berry on as General  Counsel they perhaps would have looked elsewhere until this had been resolved.
  • A blog post advertising the release of a new type of breedable animal.  The post has been removed from the Second Life website now but not before questions were asked if this post was made because the brand owner is a Linden Lab employee, if the brand paid for this as marketing and Linden Lab didn’t identify it as a paid editorial when it was sent or if it was just a favour being done.  It could be anything of course.  A few years back Linden Lab listed Sion Chickens as a finalist for the Linden Prize. I’ve had to use the SL Universe link because the blog posts are no longer on the Second Life website.  Here’s the description of the prize  – although apparently they no longer award it.  Last year, Linden Lab acknowledged that Sion Chickens improved inworld economic activity.
  • Then of course there’s the questions around how they suddenly went from the F rating to an A+ rating at the Californian Better Business Bureau, the uncharitable say it’s because of this:

BBB Accreditation

A BBB Accredited Business since 09/21/2010

BBB has determined that Linden Lab meets BBB accreditation standards, which include a commitment to make a good faith effort to resolve any consumer complaints. BBB Accredited Businesses pay a fee for accreditation review/monitoring and for support of BBB services to the public.

BBB accreditation does not mean that the business’ products or services have been evaluated or endorsed by BBB, or that BBB has made a determination as to the business’ product quality or competency in performing services.

My emphasis of course.

These examples are from the last few days remember.

The BBB accreditation requirements has this little gem

8. Embody Integrity
Approach all business dealings, marketplace transactions and
commitments with integrity
An accredited business or organization agrees to:
Avoid involvement, by the business or its principals, in activities that reflect unfavorably on, or otherwise adversely affect the public image of BBB or its accredited businesses.

Which brings me onto my final point.

Linden Lab has always taken a consistent position that what some of it’s customers do to their other customers is none of their business, even when the activities were in blatant breach of their ToS. This blind eye is of course subject to the whims of the employees.  Linden Lab also have a history of terminating accounts with no explanation given and no recourse.

Now Second Life does appear to be a haven for people who are not properly socialised and have problems differentiating right and wrong behaviour.  Unfortunately, as I’ve briefly noted in the recent events above, Linden Lab actions also constantly confirm that its employees also suffer this handicap.

The latest storm is around a group of people who at first glance appear to breach copyright and trademarks held by the owners of DC comics. They are a vigilante group who have assumed the mantle of “protectors” of Second Life and in their guise as protectors don the guise of the characters from DC comics. This is not a new group as they have been around since before 2007 and have apparently had regular contact with Linden Lab employees during this time.

The people who are the core members of this group aren’t young people, apparently they are late middle aged men and some have families.

Sadly, Second Life is a product that is appears to be rife with intellectual property theft and Linden Lab refuses to proactively monitor by maintaining that it can only act when the holder of the copyright or trademark contacts them and they refuse to do even barest due diligence when it blatantly crosses their path.  How hard would it be to request documentation confirming a licence is held for those most obvious breaches?  That would require Linden Lab employees to act to protect the good name of the company, something that they have determinedly not done in the past.

Now, if these middle aged men in tights were just running around with their superhero costumes you could just look at them and laugh and move on.  The problem is they’re not, they’re out of control and dangerous.

Apparently since at least 2007 they’ve been keeping a private wiki detailing all the information they can find on anyone in Second Life they consider to be a griefer, a potential enemy or just because they can.  They trawl through all the social media, forums and go undercover in world to contact people to get as much real life information on them as they can. They note health, residence, real life work, details of their children – any bit of information they can, no matter how irrelevant.  In itself this is certainly borderline stalking behaviour and certainly cannot be considered acceptable, although data mining and aggregation are one of the main ethical issues currently facing online entities and is yet to be resolved.

However as with all these self styled upholders of the law, they’ve overstepped the mark.  It wasn’t enough for them to have their secret stash of information, they then had to step further over the line of acceptable into the truly abhorrent behaviour.  According to reports, not only have they tried to have people sacked from their real life workplaces but more egregiously, one of the number contacted the sister of a dying man they considered to be a griefer under the pretence of being his friend so they could confirm his near demise and then death.  If that isn’t bad enough, they then posted the details on their wiki and their public website.  When you search for the dead man’s name, their web page is very close to the top of the returns.  Not only did the friends and family have to come to terms with the death of their loved one but even now, if they search his name they’ll see this web page documenting it.  Words escape me in describing my revulsion at the sheer insensitivity and deliberate hurt they cause.

To add to the general poisonous unpleasantness of this group, they apparently do charity work inworld.  This charity work apparently also extends to finding the real life details of the children they are purporting to help and documenting on their private wiki their disabilities, illnesses, family information and any other information they can get their hands on.  I’m sure the parents of these children and the charities will be thrilled to hear that.  I wonder if they’ll also contact the parents if the children look like they’re going to die – they’ll say it’s just for completeness you understand.

Does any of this stir any revulsion in the heart of any Linden Lab employee yet?

On top of this (and really it’s almost a minor side note in the great scheme of the sheer awfulness of the behaviour of these people) they’re also IP address mining to do alt matching – just as zFire did with RedZone.

Linden Lab have known about the wiki since it was first leaked in January 2010 and they condone this behaviour through their inaction.  I’ve spent a lot of time in Second Life and I’ve seen behaviours that make me despair of the human race but the actions of this group actually disgust me.  I’m appalled that Linden Lab is so completely disreputable and its employees apparently so completely incapable of identifying ethical behaviour or even understanding just how badly this reflects on them, that they have taken absolutely no action to protect their rapidly diminishing reputation.  Linden Lab employees are determined to ruin the company and honestly, after this I hope they succeed.  Years ago I decided that if a cv from a Linden Lab employee ever came across my desk it would go straight into the bin and nothing I’ve seen since has made me change my mind on that.  I feel sorry for you Rod Humble, you really do have a corporate poison chalice there.

Enough is enough, Linden Lab has to once and for all make it clear to everyone who is data mining and capturing IP addresses (and there are many more out there that I know of) that this practice is unacceptable.  Linden Lab cannot continue to say that it’s none of their business as long as the details are held outside of Second Life and not used inside it.  The complete disregard that Linden Lab has for its customers and its reputation has to stop now.  Everyone involved in this group should have their accounts cancelled – no exceptions.  The ToS allows for these actions and there is nothing to stop Linden Lab doing this – except that they don’t want to.  It’s an entrenched corporate behaviour to leave us exposed to these kinds of people, Linden Lab just can’t help themselves.  From forcing people to blanket accept all cookies from any website and with no way to protect themselves if people use viewer 2 and want to access the inworld search, to allowing the JLU and other groups to flourish, they appear to refuse to see how vulnerable we are.

Words really do fail me.