Thursday, January 03, 2013

« Should This Mixed Reality Profile be the New NWN Masthead? | Main | BLK: Modifiable Voxel, Web-Based Multiplayer World (Demo) »

Flatterbot Owner Makes USD$160 a Day Begging SL Users Via a Network of Scripted Bots, According to Interview

Flatterbot Second Life interview

Late last year you read our report about the invasion of flatterbots in Second Life - automated avatars programmed to beg SL users for Linden Dollars with a scripted dialog of flirtation and panhandling; now, it seems, we have an interview with the flatterbot owner. Blaise Joshua of Every Second Man tracked down the person behind the flatterbots, he tells me, and conducted a great and lengthy interview with her, which you should read here. According to their conversation, the flatterbot puppeteer is a young woman living in the US, who runs 10-15 bots at the same time, and makes about $160 -- that's US dollars -- from her operation, every day:

I make roughly $40,000L per day. [i.e. around USD$160] And consistently for three months. Everybody is exploiting everyone here.

To put that in more perspective, if she averaged this amount of money every day she put her flatterbots in the field, and worked over 300 days a year, she'd be grossing close to $50,000 annually.

I was a touch skeptical with this interview at first, but after talking with Blaise, a UK blogger with a background in psychology and sociology, I'm pretty convinced this is the person behind the flatterbots. Finding and interviewing her, Blaise tell me, wasn't easy:

"When setting up the interview, I agreed with Nanyea that I wouldn't publish how I found her," he explains. "However, she spoke to me through bots that were running the scam, showed me bots working on location, and switched between three different bots while talking to me." As for why she did the interview at all: "I think she enjoyed having someone to talk to -- she said as much in the interview. Also, I think there was a genuine desire to get her side of the story out there, after all the abuse she feel she takes because of it. I think it actually bothers her, and she feels she is judged more harshly than she deserves to me. She also clearly has a grudge against SL."

Read Blaise's fascinating interview here. (And thanks to Iris for the catch!)

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d8341bf74053ef017c3547654d970b

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Flatterbot Owner Makes USD$160 a Day Begging SL Users Via a Network of Scripted Bots, According to Interview:

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Cube Republic

Too funny how people are calling this a big problem on the grid. SL loves hysteria, you see someone begging on the street, you either give change or you don't.

Scarp Godenot

Everyone may think that flatterbots are cute and all that, but let's call it like it is. That person is a Con Artist. AND they are engaged in Fraudulent Behavior.

And don't give me the Caveat Emptor argument. This is a Confidence scam. Period.

Linden Lab should just delete all their Avatars and their accounts and say "don't let the door hit you on the way out"

I see this person as nothing more than a common criminal. Not the slightest bit worthy of any kind of 'see it from her side' bull.

Cube Republic

At what point does it become fraud? Is it fraudulent because the accounts are automated? If I got an alt account and actually went out and begged for cash would that be fraud?

Maybe it's irritating and annoying but technically I don't think any fraud is taking place as the interviewee pointed out. Of course their opinion is biased, however I do think they're right as far as actual law goes.

Isadora Fiddlesticks

just because it isn't the law, doesn't mean that it's right...just saying. we all have basic sense of what's right and what's wrong (or annoying) inside of us. we just consciously increase our tolerance for them, and in time they become the lack of laws for something like that--for the sake of freedom...to be an ass, that is.

Maria Korolov

I live with two teenagers. Who think I'm old, out of touch, and deficient in the mental area. And lame.

I would LOVE me some flattery. And I'm not ashamed to admit it -- I'd pay to be flattered.

To any flatterbots looking to visit my Hyperica grid and chat me up: I'm particularly likely to succumb to kind words about my youthful, energetic appearance, my sharp mental skills, and for how "with it" I am when it comes to current events and culture.

Kate Miranda

I'm wondering about the invasion of tip jar con artists I am seeing lately. They seem to position themselves harmlessly in front of tip jars, dancing or running about like hapless noobs but are really trying to intercept tips. They never show up at the start of a concert, only in the middle. They don't answer IM's and in fact often poof if they are asked to sit down.

Scarp Godenot

It is Fraud, because the bot is claiming to be a person with a long back story of why they need the money.

People are giving the money believing they are helping someone. They are not.

So that is Fraud.

No different than someone collecting money claiming it is for charity and instead pocketing it.

That is illegal.

DBDigital Epsilon

Last I knew begging was against the TOS. Or did they change that clause?

If it is still against the TOS, LL should ban the person, delete all accounts on that reason alone since it is a large operation with clear intent to fraud people.

Another aspect is the bots are not placed at locations the bot owner owns personally. But rather stores which is almost certain the owner does not give permission nor want bots at their location hounding their customers for money. I know I sure wouldn't.

GreenLantern Excelsior

I don't recall begging ever being a violation of the Terms of Service. There is a prohibition against posting content that's false or misleading in section 8.2(v) though: http://secondlife.com/corporate/tos.php

This person won't be able to make money forever with these bots. After a while people will realize what's going on, and the bots will be ignored. I think the best thing residents can do if they see one is to point it out to the sim owner so it can be ejected and banned.

Melanie

@GreenLantern The issue is not the actual act of begging. It's the deceitfulness presented alongside the begging that can be considered fraud.

Presenting a false story, deliberately deceitful so as to trick people into thinking they are helping out someone who was wronged? That's fraudulent.

Straight from the TOS, 3.2:

"You are responsible for all activities conducted through your Account. In the event that fraud, illegality or other conduct that violates this Agreement is discovered or reported (whether by you or someone else) that is connected with your Account, we may suspend or terminate your Account (or Accounts) as described in Section 11."

Cat Boccaccio

I was "flatterbotted" more than once, and the first time it was convincing and I almost responded. It is of course cynical to prey on our egos, and discouraging to see how many respond to the flattery, and sad to see them make money because we are weak or kind.

If there was a tech way to do it, I think these flatterbots should be shut down. They are unproductive and exploit the innocent and unwary. Sorry, I don't think that's right.

It's interesting that it is relevant how "clever" they are, or how much money they make. Let them be proud of how clever they are. I think they are much sadder than the people they prey upon.

elizabeth (16)

begging is covered by the rules set by the parcel owner

like you cant beg at Infohubs and WAs bc Governor Linden as parcel owner posts rules that says you cant

if a sim/parcel owner posts the same rules then the beggar cant do that there either

no rules then can do. same like biting

Blaise Joshua

I think it's erroneous to refer to what she does as "begging". Throughout the interview, she called her activities begging a number of times, and drew parallels with RL beggars.

However, what she does is both more sophisticated and employs deception. I'm not familiar with the laws in the US, and I know they vary from state to state, but I find it hard to believe that what she's doing is not illegal, or even in a legal grey area. In Britain, she would be breaking a number of laws, most presciently "Fraud by Misrepresentation".

ZZ Bottom

LL is so prone to bann without warning, i can't understand why they do not act asap on this matter.

Sandy Sandalwood

There have been avatars in Second Life begging for money since right after the beginning of SL. Over the years, I have been panhandled many times in-person and via in-world listservs. It sounds like this beggar has just stepped up her story line to become more effective.

Chestnut

I find the gambling islands that pop up all around the grid, where people lose hundreds of dollars over time, more alarming than someone running 10 flatter-bots.

Corcosman Voom

"Everybody is exploiting everyone here."

Gosh, I still learn something new now and then after all these years on the grid. I wonder if the same philosophy applies in RL?

Again, bot or not, it's hard to take any beggar in SL seriously. We have computers and internet access. Relative to real poverty, we are pampered children.

Seymore Steamweaver

I see nothing wrong with it. From what I understand they're not begging. They're asking. Nothing wrong with that. I don't give money to people asking for it unless I'm thoroughly entertained by them. If I get an IM I tell them to tell me a joke or something, that way it's a paid wage for services rendered.

val kendal

I have grudging respect for the whole con now that I know how much she makes from it. Nobody who is flatterbotted (I was) is going to fall for it twice. It's hard work, and seems to pay much better than escorting or most content creation. It may 'legally' be fraud in some places, but so is being told 'I need some change for the bus'... I think the existence of it points to the dichotomy of SL: if SL is a game, then organized panhandling has no place in it and can be regulated by the makers; if SL is a world, then it seems a natural, if unpleasant, activity, just like in RL, and regulating it would seem difficult and unlikely to be a priority for the authorities. *shrugs

CarloAntonio Negulesco

I applaud the flatterbot puppeteer! Scripting all that could not have been that easy. She's found a way to make a few bucks in SL in such a way that it really isn't hurting anyone. The bots ask for, what? L$300 or so? A little over one US dollar? That's not hurting any one person, but it does add up.

Kudos to you!

Scarp Godenot

It troubles me that people think this is somehow anything other than crime.

It is NOT praiseworthy, just as the skill of breaking into automobiles or safe cracking isn't praiseworthy.

Being a confidence criminal is the lowest form of crime. Preying on the gullible or the weak is nothing but reprehensible.

And let's get the concept of begging out of this discussion. This is not a person begging. These are automated machines made for one purpose: to make money by pretending to be a person.

This machine needs to be deleted with prejudice. And the person behind it held accountable.

2ifbyflight

eerrrr its a lot more than 10 bots. I would be interested to know if the owner is registering them as bots as per the ToS. That's where it gets dicey for the panhandler I would think.

http://slvanitybots.wordpress.com/2012/12/12/vanity-bot-names/

ZZ Bottom

Perhaps its a minor crime but is still one!
The problem is to link those bots and make LL know, if i fill a report about the im i have with one, that has nothing wrong, probably ill be suspended instead of the bot!

RobsterRawb Jaxxon

Great journalism! Ive only ran into this bot once and im glad I read about them beforehand here and was aware of the situation, good job getting communication with the maker and thank you hamlet!

DBDigital Epsilon

For those that doubt is not against the terms of service: While there isn't directly anything saying "begging" I would like to point to:

8.2 You will not post or transmit prohibited Content, including any Content that is illegal, harassing or violates any person's rights.

(ii) Impersonate any person or entity without their consent, or otherwise misrepresent your affiliation,

The above is misrepresentation your affiliation for the purpose of acquiring money.

And:
8.3 You agree that you will not post or transmit Content or code that may be harmful, impede other users' functionality, invade other users' privacy, or surreptitiously or negatively impact any system or network.

(iii) Use robots or other automated means to increase traffic to any Virtual Land;

(iv) Engage in malicious or disruptive conduct that impedes or interferes with other users' normal use of the Service;

Now granted the accounts may or may not be increasing traffic, dependent upon the settings in the account. But it is disruptive to be in a store see bots that pester for money and you might leave the location just to get away from it. Hence it is interfering with sales of the store owner.

So again, this ultimately against the TOS and I would suggest that everyone report every flatterbot they see, stating what is going on and that it is a violation of TOS. They will take action I think. Especially since the owner has said they are making a lot of money off this scheme.

Randy

I know who this person is and it is a she. A she who was ridiculed when she tried to contribute to SL. Shes got over 340 accounts running last she told me and shes making 6 figures a year in her spare time. She says she doesnt force anyone to give her cash. They either do or dont she says, shes not stealing it. I tend to side with her.

Guess Chris shouldn't have kicked her out of SLU

Pussycat Catnap

This reminds me of that friend my sister had in Nigeria who needed a little help moving his money to a US bank.

@Randy: SLU is not SL. If someone's sore about being tossed from SLU and takes it out on SL... that's plain stupid. That's like the wacko that threw an Indian guy in front a NY subway recently because she was mad about 9/11...

I've got my own frustrations with the folks on SLU. But I've got the sense to realize they aren't LL or SL. Heck most of the bad actors there are perma-banned from SL...

As for this person, I have no sympathy with a con artist. I don't mind people who have to hustle it up to survive - been there done that - but if you cross the line into deceiving people, you've crossed the line into immorality, chosen a path of evil.

But given how lazy LLs is about cleaning up some things - the only way to solve this issue is through awareness. Have to make people aware its a scam.

But my sister... it was several years after that Nigerian scam was well known that she called us up asking how to help her friend...

Phantom Republic

I actually had a convo with one of those things ... for a good five minutes or so, until they asked for money. Then I just got irritated and muted her because she "wasn't listening" (just talking) ...

It wasn't until I ran into another one with a nearly identical script that I knew I'd been fooled.

Oh! the things I told that FIRST one! (good thing she wasn't listening ... lol)

Christi

Firstly to Fall under any of the fraud listed in above TOS ..

8.2 the bots must be representing an actual person and giving information on that person. A TRUE person. These do not do this. They are using a completely faked identity. This does NOT fall under the guidelines.


8.3 Referencing to disruptive behavior. Disruptive behavior by definition in TOS is greifing and other such actions that cause "harm" or can not be avoided thus impacting an entire area making it unusable. This does not cause "harm" and CAN be avoided by simple means of mute.

While I do not agree with the method or actions of this person on a moral level. The actual offense does not break any TOS.

This becomes a "civil" dispute in SL and LL does not by their own TOS get involved in civil disputes between users.

Example : You purchase a product. Product at some point is erased or made unusable by script from creator. As unethical and to most fruad as this is. This is considered a "civil dispute".

All transaction between users are considered a civil matter and thus must be taken up within "court" not by Linden Labs.

CarloAntonio Negulesco

Oh please people. Annoying yes. But so are those that stand on the side of the road with signs about how their dog is sick and they'll work for food (which we all know is more than likely a few misrepresentations right there).

It is NOT criminal to ask for a hand out. People do it all the time. The governments love to give hand outs. Charities give hand outs.

Does that also mean that anyone using an avatar that does not accurately represent their RL looks and attitude are also in violation of the TOS?

Desmond Shang

I forgot the source of this common phrase... "Crime does pay, but, it doesn't pay enough."

This seems to be a stunning example of it right here.

Anyone with the creativity and skill capable of setting up that system, is fully capable of a 100,000 USD annual software job in California. Contrast making 160 a day with the iffy bots, to making 400 a day legitimately. Or starting their own business, and making far more.

Ironically, the thing that will bring down such a network isn't so much enforcement, but other people deciding to cash in, as well. Once the general population smells money, there will be plenty of people who will try. For some, even $1.60 a day instead of 160 would be worth it. That's how this ends... just ask anyone who gets email spam, or telemarketer calls. They sink all by themselves to the lowest common denominator.

What's really sad is what such activities do to people's souls, though... "everyone exploiting everyone?" Just imagine actually believing that... what a cold, horrible universe that must be, to live with such a truth. Especially when it isn't even true. And no amount of money will buy self respect.

Ford Carver

I have to agree with Cube Republic. "SL LOVES HYSTERIA" There are larger issues on the grid to be concerned with. Give money or don't! Personally I never give money to strangers. From time to time I'll spare some linden to my friends who may need.

Post a comment

This weblog only allows comments from registered users. To comment, please Sign In.