14 November 2010

Phoenix is not a griefer viewer!

A controversy blew up last week over Phoenix's feature that allows the true online status of a user to be seen in their profile, regardless of their privacy settings. That was used to support the argument that Phoenix is really just like Emerald, and a viewer meant to make life easier for griefers and stalkers.

Horseshit and hogwash.

Here's what the feature does. When you look at a user's profile - any user - the viewer uses a function provided by LL in the LSL scripting language to inquire about the status of the user behind the profile. It then shows that status in the profile window.

The argument goes that people who have set their accounts to not be visible except to friends, or those who have blocked a friend from seeing their online status, should not have those settings overridden by the viewer. There's just one problem with this argument: That setting, and hiding one's online status from others, has more holes in it than a shotgunned Swiss cheese, even without Phoenix's help.

Let's start with the obvious: The viewer only uses code that Linden Lab provides. The function in LSL that gives a user's online status has been there since the early days of SL, and is widely used in all sorts of things. LL even provides sample code to show how the function works, and that can be used for any account in Second Life. If this was a problem, shouldn't LL remove, or limit, the function? There's a JIRA, SVC-4823, on LL's system to try to get them to answer this exact question.

Even with that gone, there are still many ways to see a user's online status. The most obvious is to simply try sending them an IM: if they're offline, you'll get a message saying so. There are also holes in the display of calling cards in your inventory, and in the availability of the Offer Teleport button. All of these are possible with the standard viewer.

There's an even more basic way, too: If you know where they hang out, just teleport into the same region and use your camera to look around. You don't need to be near them, just in the same region (or even one next door, if you're patient enough to handle the delay in the region crossing with your camera).

So all Phoenix is doing is providing a facility that LL does, in several different ways. If you've got a complaint about it, go complain to LL; they're the ones who provide the facility and even endorse its use (if they didn't, that wiki page wouldn't be there).

Yabbut, the argument goes, even if you can, you shouldn't! More horseshit and hogwash.

The Phoenix viewer exists to give users a viewer with as rich a feature set as possible while still being usable and logical. The focus is on what users want, while remaining firmly within the third party viewer policy's limits. Our users want the true online status to show up. Who are we to make the judgment for them that they shouldn't have it, especially when they can get it so many other ways?

This issue blew up last week at one of the Lindens' office hours. Before it was all said and done, one person was raving at me about how they were going to sue Phoenix developers individually for invasion of privacy and file criminal charges against all of us for being accessories to stalking and cyberbullying and other crimes. That user is now the sole occupant of my mute list.

I, for one, am not going to allow the demented ravings of one kook to control what I do. If that user really wants to file separate lawsuits in separate states, and contact a whole raft of law enforcement agencies to pursue their stupid quest, I can't stop them - although I'm certain they'll get laughed out of court and told to go away by law enforcement agencies who have much better things to do. (Hint: In order to secure a conviction as an accessory to a crime, one must prove that a crime has been committed and that the alleged accessory actually provided material support in that specific crime.)

The bottom line is this: While a loudly screaming, but small minority, wants Phoenix to drop the feature, it's not going to happen while I have anything to do with it. The users demand it, dropping it would have no real effect on privacy, and I'm not interested in caving in to every kook with an axe to grind. If LL comes out and says that we should remove it, then we will. Until then, the kooks can rant in vain.

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