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Facebook, SOE, Metaplace, and online privacy

In Uncategorized on 2009-02-17 by Kyle Maxwell

NB: I am a licensed private investigator in the State of Texas due to my work as a computer forensic analyst, and my professional background lies in information security. So I approach these matters both from the perspective of an informed user as well as a professional. I am not a lawyer, however, and this is not legal advice.

Literally millions of people have discussed and thought about the recent hoopla regarding the changes to the Facebook Terms of Service. I don’t intend to revisit the specifics of that issue here except to say that a lot of people with little to no experience in these sorts of issues got their dander up about legal wording they didn’t fully understand and technical architecture they may have understood even less. No one really questions the legality of what they did, of course. They question whether Facebook should do it this way. I tend to think that Facebook did the right thing legally and technically, but handled the relationship poorly. More on that below, but first another example.

SOE is providing years of Everquest II server logs to a research organization. Again, the existing TOS let them do this: essentially, they own everything you do in their world. Some folks like Raph Koster (formerly of SOE, now of Metaplace) have proposed a sort of “avatar bill of rights” that encapsulate what people want, though reality rarely reflects this. SOE later explained that this effort does not include player chat logs; they should have explained this sort of thing from the beginning.

Unfortunately, Facebook and SOE both did mediocre jobs of handling the customer relationship here, as they should have gotten out ahead of the issue by clearly explaining the issues to their customers. Failing that, they shouldn’t have responded by basically saying, “trust us”. People have real concerns about anonymity, privacy, and security. (With MMORPGs, I suspect that cybersex also lies at the heart of the concerns of many of their players.)

Facebook basically just did a bad job of PR; we don’t yet know all the facts about SOE because they haven’t said a whole lot, but either way, given their history with SWG and the now-infamous NGE, they should have learned to explain early and often, then actually listen and act.

A lot of emotions (including fear and embarrassment) get dredged up when we discuss privacy and anonymity. Frankly, despite the fact that Raph Koster has long positioned himself at the forefront of this issue, the fact that Metaplace community manager Tami Baribeau dismisses all of this really concerns me. I don’t want to misrepresent her, but her approach to privacy concerns literally consists of “get over it or get off the Internet“. The fact that some folks with the same viewpoint look at DRM with such a different view fascinates me even more.

Metaplace has very blunt (and liberal) policies on user-generated content, but it seems like they have some internal cultural conflicts they need to resolve. Otherwise, at some point they will inevitably make the same customer relationship mistakes that Facebook and SOE have made.

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