Are SLers in denial? I think avatar=real person privacy is at death's door.Although my knee-jerk reaction was to defend the idea that pseudonymity is here to stay, I decided that the topic deserved more consideration. My question today is not whether avatar privacy should go away, but whether forces such as these are making it less tenable;
Continued influx of people using VWs as an extension of their RL jobs, education, etc:
- At the moment, there's no easy way for teachers and students to be fully pseudonymous (little alone anonymous) and receive academic credit. At the very least, each institution would need to have some list linking avatar and human identity.
- Corporate employees and people with virtual world businesses who wish to work with mainstream companies will continue to find it necessary or at least beneficial to disclose RL information. Although there are exceptions to the rule, if you want to get paid you're probably going to need to get made.
- The new Second Life display name capability makes it easier than ever to conflate RL and SL identities. I don't know how high the percentage will get, but there's nowhere to go but up.
- It's likely that educational and corporate use of virtual worlds will continue to increase and perhaps even become commonplace.
- It's likely that Second Life and other virtual worlds will eventually allow Facebook authentication. When that happens, there will be an added incentive for more people to extend RL identities, at least with one primary avatar.
- There's a certain chicken and the egg factor at play in the maintenance of Second Life's pseudonymity-accepting culture. If at some time the balance between human-connected identity communities and pseudonymous identity communities shift, it's possible that overall cultural acceptance could swing the other way.
Take it from me, maintaining pseudonymity in an actively transworld virtual life demands great attention to detail. I have separate accounts for Vimeo, YouTube, Flickr, Twitter, Plurk, Facebook, Animoto, Gmail, etc.. Even though I put together a system that keeps identities separate by using different browsers, I came close to posting something identifiable to the wrong account countless times. As our avatar identities spread across multiple platforms, it will become increasingly difficult to juggle it all and keep everything separate. It only takes one slip to blow your cover. Some of us also find that our virtual "careers" become significant enough that we want to carry them over to human identity so that we can fully benefit from them.
Continued introduction of new hacking and security technology:
The recent RedZone controversy reminds us that we leave breadcrumbs all over the place as we surf. For instance, if I had wanted to, I could have easily connected quite of few of the visitors here over the years to their cities and places of employment. I personally chose not to. But others likely make a different choice. Although it is possible to take measures such as shielding our IP addresses through software like the TOR Project and turning off cookies in our browser settings, no strategy is absolutely fool-proof. Another looming technology involves artificial intelligence that crawls the web and makes correlations between what would otherwise be disconnected chunks of data.
Various Human factors:
If even a single person knows the connection between your virtual and human identity, it is quite possible that they will eventually intentionally or inadvertently share that information with someone else. Every additional person who knows the connection increases the chances that the cat will get totally out of the bag. Of course, you can make the decision to tell no one and control the secret yourself. The problem is that you are likely to meet people who you want to share details about your human life, up to and including your full identity. So you either back off from moving forward in those relationships or give up some control over your pseudonymous destiny.
I'll leave it for another day to reconsider the personal benefits and costs of pseudonymity. I'm happy at the moment with my own middle ground, although it's fun to kick the fourth wall once in a while like I'm doing with the appearance by my human counterpart on the Metanomics Community Forum tomorrow.