Trust is the foundation of any community. And one cornerstone of trust is identity. You’ve got to know something about the person you are dealing with before you can trust them. Knowing who to trust in an online environment presents unique challenges. Traditionally Second Life users have based their trust on relationships built over time, and often on some basic verification such as ‘Payment Info on File’.
As the community grows and as the economy develops, it’s clear we need a new means of identification. We’ve talked about identity and age verification in prior posts here, here and here. Each one elicited a lot of feedback in the comments. Comments which we’ve listened to and considered when developing our Identity Verification (IDV) system.
The IDV system aims to deliver two things. First, for Residents, it gives them the chance to independently verify certain aspects of their identity (their name, age, location and sex for instance) if they choose to. This will help establish trust by removing a layer of anonymity for those they interact with. It’s much easier to trust someone who puts their name behind their words and actions.
The second benefit of the IDV system is to help land owners and content publishers be sure that minors do not get access to inappropriate material. Again this is voluntary, but we wanted to provide the tools for estate owners to restrict access to content of a sexual or violent nature to those they are sure are over 18. They’ll do this by flagging the content as ‘Restricted’ which will only allow avatars verified as over 18 to access the land. Visitors to Restricted areas can also be reassured that all other visitors are over 18 as well.
I want to reiterate that identity verification is voluntary for both Residents and estate owners. Residents who value their anonymity may continue to remain anonymous and will continue to have access to all Mature and PG areas of the Grid. Land owners are strongly encouraged to flag adult content as Restricted to safeguard themselves from publishing inappropriate content to minors, as well as protecting any minors themselves.
Information provided during the identification process, such as a driver’s license, passport or national ID card number, will simply be used to cross-check against public records. Linden Lab will not be storing this data and nor will the third party verification specialist, Aristotle. Residents may choose which personal details such as name, age, location, sex, they wish to share about themselves publicly.
Some asked whether a simple credit card could suffice as verification. For the purpose of building trust, such a system would not be adequate since credit cards are not a means of ID. Credit cards aren’t restricted to over 18s, are not tied to a verified name and are not available in every country where Second Life is used. You can’t get into a bar with a credit card for instance.
A beta of the IDV system is open initially to all estate owners from today, who are free to verify their identities. Once the beta period is complete the system will be available to all Residents. Access to Restricted parcels will be prohibited for non-verified avatars from that time.
Further to Ian Linden’s recent blog post about Grid stability, I’d also like to reassure you that this system has been developed by a third party and has not detracted from essential bug fixing efforts, which we realize are key.
We’ve updated and enhanced the Q&As below, which I hope address the main points about how to verify yourself and which types of content to flag. Personally, I think this will help take our in-world relationships to a new level of trust. And that’s good for us all.
Questions and Answers
• What is identity verification? It’s a means of verifying aspects of who you are in real life, such as age or location, by checking information you provide against public records.
• Why do we need it? Identity verification provides an additional layer of trust for in-world businesses and Residents. It also helps ensure that minors can not gain access to inappropriate content in Second Life or have access to restricted content in-world.
• How does it work? Residents will provide a few simple details about their identity – generally, name, date of birth, and address. Additionally, Residents will be asked to provide specific identifying information, such as, for example, a driver’s license number, passport or national ID card number, or the last four digits of a social security number (this is dependent on where geographically the Resident is based). This is then cross-checked against pre-existing databases of public record, to verify relevant aspects of a Resident’s identity.
• Do I have to submit to identity verification? No. This is completely voluntary. For example, you need only provide age verification if you choose to enter areas in Second Life that have been flagged as having restricted content.
• What do you mean by “flagged as having restricted content”? Estate and parcel owners will be requested to flag the presence of restricted content on their land. Access to that area will then be restricted to verified Residents only. Flagging restricted areas provides notice to adults that content contained in the area may be objectionable to them. It also provides an added layer of protection against minors who have gained unauthorized access to the world of Second Life.
• Why are you doing this now? The growing popularity of Second Life gives rise to the need to add measures of security so that Second Life remains a safe environment for all Residents. We also want to make sure that Residents have the tools they need to interact with the community in a way that works for them. This is a more effective way of identification than ‘payment information on file’, which some Residents use to evaluate whether they can trust another individual.
• What documents do I need to prove my identity? Exact documents may vary depending on your country of residence, but may include: passport, driver’s license, national ID number or social security number.
• I’m outside the US. Does it work the same in each country? The exact information required for identity verification may vary from country to country, but the system works in generally the same way around the world.
• What types of activities in Second Life will require age verification? Access to areas that Residents and businesses have flagged as containing restricted content will require age verification.
• Who will need to verify their age? Anyone wishing to access restricted content will need to verify their age in advance. Just like going into a bar – you need to prove your age.
• What if I’m under 18? Minors are not allowed in Second Life. Please access Teen Second Life to enjoy Second Life if you are under 18. Only Residents between the ages of 13 and 17 will be allowed to access Teen Second Life.
• What if I want to remain anonymous? Residents over the age of 18 can still remain anonymous if they wish to remain in areas of Second Life that do not contain restricted content. Identity verification will only be required at this time for access to restricted content.
• What if adult content is not flagged as restricted? We strongly encourage land holders to flag any restricted content and restrict their parcels to avoid minors inadvertently accessing it. If Residents and businesses choose not to do this, we expect that such behavior will be reported by the community itself. As has always been the case, Residents are morally, socially and legally responsible for their actions and content in Second Life. Clearly, any illegal activity or content will be investigated and appropriate action will be taken.
• What personal information will you store? Linden Lab will not store any specific, identifying information. Our verification provider will assess the consistency of the provided information and return a match code; at that point, a Resident becomes verified. The entire process takes less than two minutes, and will be available internationally. Our verification provider will only use information to provide a match code and the only information stored by Linden Lab will be whether or not there was a match.
• Do I have to pay for verification? Verification will initially be free; as we roll out the system we expect there to be a nominal fee for Premium members, and a larger fee for people with Basic memberships.
• Do I have to verify each avatar I use? You will have to verify each separate avatar that you use, but there are no limits on the number of avatars you can have verified. This can all be done under the ‘my account’ section of the Second Life Web site.
• As a parcel/estate owner, how do I flag content as ‘restricted’? Land owners will find a check box in their land management tools that they will be able to check if they have restricted content on their land. To find this, in the Second Life viewer, go to World > About Land > Options. There’s a check box called Restricted Content under Land Options.
• What is defined as “Restricted Content”? We trust that common sense will prevail. As a general rule, “Restricted Content” is any content that is explicitly sexual or excessively violent in nature.
• What happens if I don’t flag my restricted content? We believe that most landowners will want to take steps to prevent minors being exposed to restricted content. All content creators and businesses are morally and legally responsible for their activities. We strongly advise landowners to take advantage of these tools to prevent inappropriate use by those who may have accessed the adult grid using fraudulent information. Land containing adult content that is not clearly marked will be easily identifiable by the community. This will enable the community to raise concerns directly with the landowner or with Linden Lab via the Abuse channel. The burden of responsibility lies with the parcel and estate owner for the content displayed and activities offered on their land. The identity verification system provides those owners with the means to protect themselves, their customers and visitors.
• Doesn’t payment information count as age verification? Payment information was never meant to be proof of age. In fact, credit cards are not restricted to people over the age of 18, nor are credit cards available in all countries. In the past, we have recognized accounts as verified when we receive complete payment information; however, this process does not serve as a substitute for age verification.
• What happens if I experience problems when I try and verify my identity? We are committed to making sure the process is as smooth and user-friendly as possible, however, we understand that this represents a change for Residents. We have also tested the system extensively with our systems provider, Integrity, which has a great track record of delivering this type of technology to other companies. Issues should be directed to the SL support portal.
• How can I be sure that my information will be treated securely when I enter it on the ‘my account’ section? The data will be transmitted securely via SSL (Secure Socket Layer) to Integrity. This is a standard, secure way of transmitting data over the Web, and is used by many online businesses. For example, if you’ve ever paid a bill online, chances are it was with SSL in place.
• Will my personal information ever be shared with anyone else? Linden Lab does not share Resident data for marketing or other purposes, but does of course comply with requests from all governmental and regulatory authorities and with court orders including subpoenas.