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Thursday, July 09, 2009


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An established reputation and trust is built on action (or lack of it in some cases). in transactions of any nature RL or SL we determine via various means who we trust and what is the risk.
Some people con others after a very long term very deep cover scam. Others just wear a hood and steal your bag in the street.
We buy books by writers not using their real names, we end up in organizations where people have risen to the top in ways that may have been above board, or by nefarious means.
In all this we are dealing in a global environment where the local laws probably are not any protection. So I think we should focus on how we feel about who we deal with via whatever means that makes each individual feel comfortable.

For people who don't want to deal with famous but anonymous avatars then that is fine for them, for people who only want to deal with them that is fine too.
Would I give thousands of pounds to someone in the street who had a valid looking UK passport. Probably not. Do I currently trust all of apparently upstanding members of parliament (who I know precisely who they are legally)?
The name/avatar conversation strikes me as not a binary one, but a more long term grey area, constantly changing and altering.

Thoria Millgrove

I think epredator has it right. Somehow, people seem to think that trust comes from knowing the precise identity of a person, whatever that really means. That's the same mistake our governments fall into, thinking better ID cards will stop terrorism.

But trust is much more complex than that, and an RL identity in some cases can actually decrease safety, by causing us to lower our guard without real justification.

dandellion Kimban

Trick that so many people don't (want to) see is that we hang on reputation and nothing more in first life too. We are used to know FL names so much that we think we know the person if we know their name. Which is simply not true.

Of course, FL name is binding thing on the contract, but in many cases it's not contract that is in question but the reputation. And of course, there is what you mentioned with the example of e-bay.... on-line reputation is based on the on-line identity.

Valiant Westland

... I share my real name/identity via my LinkedIn profile, with those I want to do business with. This type of disclosure is likely more important to people/businesses that are new to virtual worlds, as it allows them to quickly establish their “brands” value.

Doing business without the benefit of legal identities, has the potential to leave you vulnerable to a whole host of problems such as:

* Contract Enforcement
* Insufficient Tax Documentation
* Copyright/IP Prosecution/Defense
* Non-disclosure Exposure

More... http://theslrevolution.wordpress.com/2009/02/04/identity-in-virtual-worlds/

Botgirl Questi

I cringe when the term "discrimination" is used in this context. Seems narcissistic to feel that someone should be obligated to do business with you if you're not willing to provide whatever assurances they need to feel comfortable. If you make the choice (like I have) to act through a pseudonym, then be honest enough with yourself to realize YOU ARE HIDING SOMETHING and people are going to be nervous about trusting you with important business matters.


I think that anyone engaging in "serious" business without the benefit of knowing who they are REALLY doing business with is a fool. That being said - I respect and appreciate some people's expectation of being nameless within the confines of the metaverse.
Personally it's not something that I require or expect - but people who aren't doing RL business across a digital platform are probably entittled to a little privacy.

Impalah Shenzhou

I agree with Valiant.

Real business, beyond xstreet products and some hundred euros, implies taxes, contracts, guarantees and so on. Unless your avatar is your trade mark, of course, you will need to create invoices for your jobs, with your real name, or you'll have problems with Treasury.

Crap Mariner

I agree with Valiant, even though you are ultimately the sum of your deeds, memories, and kills, and not the label you chose for the box they are stored in.


Kwame Oh

Good to see this debate continue, remember somewhere in the past I raised it and was akin to putting my hand into hornets nest.

Also was reminded about being anonymous, in recent debate raging concerning the wearing of the Burkas, and whether a ban on public wearing should/could be put in place. Much as I agree a woman has a choice, when it comes ... Read moreto personal freedoms, we must take into account the needs/fear of the society, whether these needs/fears are valid or not, after all I cannot wear a balaclava as a man, and enter a public place especially, a bank or such like without been pinned to the ground by burly men with guns.

I use this instance to point out this is not a debate for VW alone, but the needs of the greater society of which VW is but an extension, in these times when those in authority have let us down, not the time to hide behind non transparent identities.

Julius Sowu Virtually-Linked London

Tateru Nino

This issue recurs from time to time. If you think people *outside* of SL that you might meet in a store, a bar, a cafe or in the street are any *less* anonymous than someone in SL, then you need to open your eyes and pay more attention.

Neptune Rebel

Just to add here: I don't think a RL name is necessary for contracts. As I recall, Nathan Keir used his SL name (Kermitt Quirk) when he signed the contract to license Tringo for video game development.

Sioban McMahon

If it's real money, use your real name.

The RL organizations with whom the West of Ireland works all know my real name, address, phone, and have a copy of my RL resume/cv. We're handling money for the non-profit, the need to know who I am.

I'm also open about my identity with anyone who wants to know about the finances of the in-world non-profit.

I think when you are handling money, you need to be completely open about things. It probably helps, though, that I'm not doing anything in SL that my friends, family, or colleagues in RL shouldn't know.

Tateru Nino

Your AFK name isn't (your local federal jurisdiction may vary) necessary for contracts, or for paying taxes (I pay mine as Tateru Nino, which is the only name my employers know me as), and suchlike.

Many jurisdictions permit a nom de guerre or a nom de plume as a legal name, so long as they are "not used for any criminal or fraudulent purpose". As I said, though, your local laws may vary somewhat on this.

Arcadia Codesmith

There is an advantage in doing business exclusively or primarily through an avatar, and that is that there is no baggage. Your degree or lack thereof is irrelevant. Nobody knows or cares if the CEO is your golfing buddy, or if you're a homeless person logging on from the library. It doesn't matter if live in Manhattan or Madras. All that's left is the quality of your work, your online reputation, and how well you present yourself.

I rather like the idea of landing a job on the strength of my portfolio rather than which ivy-covered design school I attended with the nephew of the company president.

I think the era of "who you know is more important than what you know" is slowly receding into history, and the anonymous avatar is part of the transition. It's not going to be a quick transition, but it's already underway.

Adric Antfarm

Where do you people work?

HR purged (they refuse to say lost) our hire verification so we got an email last week that we were required to complete an I-9 AND come with the required combination of IDs (drivers license+SSN, etc).


The form is marked "Homeland Security" so I can't imagine getting around it.

Also, some payments need to scanned against (Patriot Act), so I wouldn't recommend paying anyone you don't have real info on.

For those of you in other countries, well of course silly.

Impalah Shenzhou

That's the point, Tateru, the local laws.

I can't create (in my country) an invoice with the name of my avatar. I need what is called a CIF (Treasury Identification Code) and only real people (with real name and address) and legally established business have one.

And to create a business here implies to pay a lot of taxes, so it's easier to use own real name for discontinuous jobs.


So interesting. It is one thing to be anonymous, or pseudonymous, in SL or in a context in which that is an accepted mode of interaction, but when that platform intersects with the actual world of business and financial dealings, it is no surprise that some of the more ephemeral or flakier aspects of the virtual world don't hold up.

Yes, there are analogies in the actual world to some of these aspects of virtual identity, absolutely. But it is amazingly easy to manipulate identity in a virtual world. As someone who has written about the trickster figure, I see SL as a "new country" with a myriad of positive and negative possibilities. It fosters experimentation with identity and subjectivity, gives us a platform and new venue for creativity, but also allows for deception without accountability.

But back to business. The point of overlap between the virtual and the actual is the frontier, the liminal space, where there are opportunities for innovation and profit, but also for exploitation and scams. The issue of knowability, though is on another level. Moving business transactions from the virtual world to the actual world is like wanting to work in another country. If you want to do that, you need the visa, and better hand over the documents when they ask, or they will stop you at the border.

Nalates Urriah

There are a couple of interesting aspects not brought up. The AV Alts and the multiple personalities that may use the same AV...

Then what happens if someone builds an AV reputation and sells the AV to someone else?

Can an AV be a salable property? Or is that some type of virtual slavery? :) Kidding. But, transferring an AV would not be that complex a task if one were thinking of that when setting up the account.

Sioban McMahon


According to LL, avvies aren't transferable. If you pass away, your relatives can get access to your account to say good bye, close things up, but you can't build an avvie reputation and sell it.

Tristin Mikazuki

Compairing LL to ebay or amazon isnt fair lol LL could in no way shape or form compete with thier level of technical skill they, LL that is just have skilled people working for them.

Zha Ewry

I think one of the bigger issues is that of "recourse." There is essentially no recourse available, should the person behind a fully pseudononamous identity fail to deliver as expected.

If one looks at how people do business, when they have limited knowledge about a counterpart, you see risk mitigation via recourse as a common theme.

"Use a credit card, because then you can dispute the charge."

"Book via a travel booking service, rather than directly contacting a small hotel, because the service has a reputation."

Recourse, enhances trust, even when we don't expect to need it. One suspects, that people implicitly assume, that in the absence of recourse, people are less trustworthy.

~ Zha

Tateru Nino

In my experience, recourse is roughly the same. There's an extra step to go through, but I've had far better success rates with seeking recourse from an SL user, than seeking recourse with someone who isn't.

Statistically, however, I think the percentages would be about the same -- since ultimately, we're talking about people, whether their PC is on or off.

Nalates Urriah

@Sioban, According to LL lots of things can't be done. But people have found ways. Selling an AV is no different.

Set up an account using a business name, tax ID and CC and the AV becomes part of the company assets. Handle all the DBA stuff outside SL/LL and they would not even know when the AV changed ownership.

Paisley Beebe

I was actually asked to change my Linked-in name to my real name to join a Virtual worlds group??? which I found incredibly rude and strange. The suggestion was that no one would want to do business with me in-world with an Avatar name as my main name on Linked-In...Any group that insists on that sort of pre-requisite is not a group I want to be a member of. I would disclose as necessary but I felt that was not necessary.

Sioban McMahon


True, you can do it behind LL's back. We're a registered non-profit though, and wanted to be completely upfront so we couldn't do it.

Sioban McMahon

One of the other issues with hiding your true identity, it gives some people the freedom to behave as they NEVER would in RL. I don't see that always as a plus, to be frank. Certainly it shouldn't be a plus in business or other other circumstances that involve significant money.

Arcadia Codesmith

The freedom to behave badly is tempered in most cases by the desire to maintain a consistant, positive reputation in business relationships, even if that reputation is purely virtual.

And part of the reason I like to remain anonymous is that people can and do some VERY nasty things in RL. I don't want a virtual business contact showing up on my real doorstep with duct tape, chloroform and a taser...


"both have lost jobs and other opportunities, all due to a single personal choice: neither of them will reveal who they are in real life, not even to individuals and companies who'd like to hire them."

Here is the thing... I have lost jobs BECAUSE I revealed who I was online, and wrote things online the company didn't like.

For that reason (and others), I'm like Sophrosine and Scope, my life online is completely separate from my life offline.

Yes, I have lost RL opportunities because of this choice too, but I figure it all evens out. I prefer separation, I enjoy separation, and I don't give a crap what other people think of it.

Mootly Obviate

Part the first:

As a fictional character, I can't help but wonder how many real people in the world are fictional like me.

No, that is not sarcasm, or condemnation, but a real question.

I put put forward that we are all convenient fictions, personalities created for interacting with the world through whatever mode we prefer to interact with it in.

Our public selves exist to interface with the public. They may not be who we perceive ourselves to be, but who we must be in order to operate. Every living, breathing person is, in their own way, a convenient fiction.

Part the second:

Why can people prove who they are with a legal document, but not prove who they are by being them? If we take a legal document to be the inscription of a legal fiction upon the world (the creation of a contrived state of being within an abstracted system or structuring reality), does that mean that any legal representation of identity is also a fiction? Furthermore, does that mean identity, in the sense of a legally binding one, itself is a fiction?

I postulate the existence of the metonymic person, a person whose very existence has been replaced by its own signifier, such that they no longer have existence outside the signifiers that represent this existence. Furthermore, I postulate that this is a very recent occurance.

This can be seen in obvious ways such as the number of places people are noted by an account number, or a driver's license, or a federal ID number. But I think it goes deeper than that. I think people are becoming so subsumed under their signifiers that their signifiers are becoming more real than they are. This was a category of non-existence that was once reserved for nobility, but is now available, if not actively imposed, on every person dealing with modern society.

Perhaps it is a factor of consumption, our real selves must be consumed under a legal fiction of identity into order to create the mental state necessary for us to consume new, ready made, identities.

Harper Beresford

To address Zha's question about recourse, there IS recourse, at least in regards to Scope Cleaver's work. If he uses a Real Life legal proxy to handle his contracts--a person or company with name, address, etc., there can certainly be legal recourse exacted against Scope's proxy. In other words, someone can get sued.

Extropia DaSilva

'According to LL, avvies aren't transferable'.

I am not sure that is true. It is generally the case that you cannot give away your account, but I think LL permits it, provided you go through certain procedures with them.

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