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Jun 13, 2006





Actually, Google does recognize "WoWChatLog.txt". For some reason, your search was looking for a url that contained those words.


Primalmoon> Yes. I was searching for copies of people's wowchatlogs, rather than pages which talked about them.


There are multiple lessons here.

First, the internet has the potential to ruin people as fast as it promotes them. Back in the 1970s I wrote a review of D&D for a miniatures magazine that failed to fully grasp the nature of the then-new RPG game concept. If I hadn't gone on to create over 20 paper games and 20 computer games since then, including some RPGs, those youthful comments to an audience that originally numbered only hundreds might have terminated my career in the game industry.

Second, when playing in ANY virtual world or MMOG, it is vitally important to keep your RL identity secret. I always create a new email account for each new game I try; I have a special "online only" credit card I use for online purchases and game subscriptions. I recently learned to never, ever have any kind of IRC running while involved in a game, since that is extremely traceable.

There have been cases when both myself and my wife have made RL friends with people we met in-game (back in EQ and DAoC, in particular). However, we knew them in-game for over a year before any RL information was exchanged. They remain social friends to this day, but we're always very, very, very careful about such things.

Personally, I suspect the greatest danger here is to teenagers and young adults who use MMOGs as a way to release frustrations and "act out" in socially inappropriate ways. Their unguarded actions now could haunt them in the far future.

Ultimately there is a "presumption of privacy" about anonymous or fictional name useage on the internet which just isn't true. I recommend every internet device and software have a big, huge label that pops up whenever you log into anywhere, saying "WARNING: SOMEBODY COULD BE RECORDING EVERYTHING YOU SAY AND DO, AND MAY REVEAL IT AT SOME FUTURE DATE."


The ease of Internet searching also makes for some interesting conclusions, exclusions and repurcussions. Because, for some time, I was a marketing consultant and *wanted* to be found on the Internet, my name, contanct info, various email addresses and URLs were scattered all over cyberspace. Some first-hand by me, some 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc., as various papers and articles I wrote got disseminated. Which was my intent.

What was NOT my intent, was to be contacted by a couple people who were trying to get in touch with an entirely different "Andy Havens" who had fallen off the face of the earth, apparently, and was vigorously trying not to be contacted. One of these conversations was very confusing, to both myself and the other fellow, as he jumped right into it, assumed I was the "other Andy," and began to talk about some rather interesting details of a business deal that had gone sour, and for which he was requesting closure. When I finally figured out I wasn't "that Andy," he didn't believe me. I directed him to my main consulting site, and to my bio with picture... but he initially rebuffed me, saying, "You could have put up a fake picture yesterday. Besides... I never met you or talked to before anyway." He had only ever done business with the other Andy by email. Until Alter-Andy had gone a-losty. What finally convinced him that I wasn't Alter-Andy was my apparent age and consistent string of publications, resume, etc -- in short, my availability and . The other guy had been, it seems, much younger, flightier, and less "worldly," according to my new acquaintance.

My point is this; it's not that hard to establish an alter ego in real life, or to have a case of mistaken identity. It is ridiculously easy online. I've been privy to a couple cases of "bulletin board" and/or "blog" fraud, where one of the posters turns out to have been a con man/woman, posing/posting in order to make friends and, eventually, take advantage. In once case, psychologically. In a second, monetarily. Both made possible by the pseudonymity (great word, btw) of the 'Net.



This sounds to me exactly like the rule any office worker learns: Never, ever write anything in an email that you'd be embarrassed to see forwarded to your boss, your boss's boss, everyone in the company, everyone your company does business with, the local or national media, your friends, your spouse, and your mom.



Perhaps there is an effective anonymity on MMOs or things like IRC - in that the vast majority of people you converse with will not and probably cannot find out who you are - just like on such services like IRC. For most I'd assume that this effective or presumed anonymity is good enough.

On a personal non criminal level I don't think that the ability to nail down exactly who 'Babygurl69' will make a big difference. People's behaviour will change, but that won't change the fact that the guy furiously whispering you about how wrong you are on the number of German dead in the Battle of Apia lives 8000km away in Argentina. What are you going to do if he calls you an arse or insults your parentage in a public chat channel? Probably what you do today, ignore him or respond with your own smack talk.

Will this scenario of easily accessible identity or chat archive searrhing


We've been using varying modes of media to manage how much of our backstage information we want to divulge for a long time now. The same dynamics are at play in phones and telegraphs. It's just the level of permanance and information richness that's changed.

I've taught "Virtual Communities" classes a couple times now to grads and undergrads alike, and I'm always struck by how good that New Yorker cartoon frames things:
On the Internet nobody knows that you're a dog.

But Eric's point is a good one, and apropos in the midst of an administration that is OK with public surveilance (Hi, George!)--how about recording both our actions as well as our words? What you've *done* is trackable online if game makers learned to capture and store it for retrieval. (My sense is that this is rudimentary at best right now, but could evolve)

As Lessig puts it, sure the Internet can be seen as a place of freedom and anonymity, but it's all about the code. There's no natural default state there, despite how we might think about it. The Internet can also be a place of "exquisite control."

Basically, everyone should read the first few chapters of Lessig's "Code." He lays the issues out beautifully.


Dmitri, that raises an interesting question: would academics studying online communities rather have access to richly mined data about actions and conversations in the world even at the risk of others using this for "exquisite control" (as history shows they almost certainly would), or have more assured in-world privacy and thus no such mined data to analyze?


Fwiw, whenever I've seen transcripts of WoW online they've been screenshots of the chat window, sometimes with people's names crossed out; either that's even easier (god knows the few times I've wanted to look over my combat log I've always forgotten to turn on logging) or it feels more authentic. "Screenshots or it didn't happen!" as they say.


Mike, I think it always comes down to trust in the system--do you think that you can trust those with the power of the state, or can't you? Certainly there are times when that trust is more deserved than others, and there are plenty of people who will sign away their rights when motivated by laziness, fear, greed, etc. Ack, there might be a sleeper cell somewhere--sure, tap my phones and arrest people without warrants or charges. I trust you!

If you or I were the guardians of some system, I think we'd need to be worthy of such trust. If developers and/or the state are worthy, then protections can be built in as with any state-like system. Disassociating in-game data from RL identity is very similar to RL versions:
e.g. Anonymous tip lines only work when anonymity is guaranteed.

How you do it is in some sense kind of irrelevant if the trust and principles are agreed upon up front in some sort of guiding statement or philisophy. One obvious way to collect data and protect privacy is to disassociate logins from in-game data through a hash of the ID. But again, it all comes down to trust--earned and protected.

Perhaps some kind of virtual world Bill of Rights is in order. Or, as Lessig would argue, we should extend the original intentions (not the letter of the laws, which would often change the meaning in new contexts) of the actual Bill of Rights and translate them into this new digital environment.


so... how long before the first political candidate gets lambasted by the media because a 10 year old chat log comes to light? (20 year... 30 year...)


While these are all really excellent points, I'm not sure that you are addressing my central concern: Even if individuals and society take seemingly adequate precautions today to protect privacy and preserve pseudonymity, will persistent histories of virtual worlds today combine with technologies of the future to erase the pseudonymity we thought existed? And will the appearance of pseudonymity today entice people to act in ways that they will come to regret.

Example by analogy: RSA is a crytographic technique that allows secrot information to be safely passed in the clear. It is based on the lack of humanity over centuries of time to find an efficient way to decompose the product of two large primes back into its constituent factors. In 1994, Peter Shor developed a technique that would allow quantum computers to perform this prime factorization in a relatively efficient manner. If and when quantum computers become available, any copies of messages that were kept will become decipherable. Persistence plus technological advance may break the seal on today's privacy or pseudonymity.

Arnold Hendrick: You seem to take great care to keep your game identities separate from RL. But -- and beware, Gentle Readers, as we descend into the Rumsfeldian quagmire -- you might be defending against the known knowns, and the known unknowns. But how do you protect yourself against the unknown unknowns? Imagine a text analysis mechanism that groups identities by writing style. Or by the frequency with which they use certain emoticons? Or by the words they frequently misspell or mistype? Or watches the vectors by which internet memes spread. If your public chat is being collected today (easy by today's technology), then who knows what techniques can be used to mine it in the future?

Dmitri: On the internet no one knows you're a dog. Today. But might your dogginess be clearer in the future's hindsight? And I'm less concerned with the game makers tracking this information, than I am with the gamers themselves. In order for these world to be social spaces, the games have to reveal some information about other characters to the gamer. It is almost impossible to prevent that gamer, on his own machine, to persist his game experience. Once persisted, we only have to wait until there are computational resources and techniques to mine that game history. Lessig's "Code" is right on target, but ultimately there are some inherent limitations -- if you interact with someone through a game, they might be recording what you do.


"will persistent histories of virtual worlds today combine with technologies of the future to erase the pseudonymity we thought existed? And will the appearance of pseudonymity today entice people to act in ways that they will come to regret."

I'm not clear on the value of developing these technologies. I presume there would have to be some benefit involved for this progress to occur. The OP mentioned capabilities WoW already possesses in this direction("chat logging or game API that Blizzard has provided"), but I'm not familiar with that game, personally...could someone elaborate on the log recording elements in WoW and the intended benefits behind these?


"I'm not clear on the value of developing these technologies. I presume there would have to be some benefit involved for this progress to occur."

Agreed. And the new technologies would not be developed for this application, but a much broader and generally useful one.

As to chat logging, since much of your communication with other players occurs through IM-like chat, WoW allows players to have everything that passes through your chat window saved to a file as well. I can't speak to Blizzard's intentions in enabling this, but suspect players that enable it are hoping for the MMO equivalent of a diary or scrapbook. I would be surprised if very many players bother to turn it on each time they log into the game.

A new generation of legal addons/mods are cropping up which track in-game financial transactions. While these are designed for the economic heavy-hitters, to get a truer risk/benefits analysis of buying and selling certain items, they would leave behind a pool of minable data.


Eric I was agreeing, in spades, with your original point. I have every expectation that someone in the future will mine what I present on the internet. This is one of many reasons why my long-standing MMO industry newsletter is NOT available on the internet.

My care with virtual vs RL identities in games is hardly a solid defense, but if done with discipline and persistence currently prevents the most egregious problems that can occur in virtual worlds right now.

My real point is that users of the internet need to assume that they'll never be anonymous. Sometime in the future, somebody could unearth something you said or did.

In fact, as most TN readers probably know, this Big Brother Of The Internet already exists in China.


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