Content ratings, age-verification and secret words

tan-linden-lab-secret-keywordsLinden Lab is now in the final legs of adding a new content category to its virtual environment, Second Life. Being added to the existing PG and Mature categories is the new category, Adult, which permits some content which has hitherto not been permitted in Second Life. The new content category is anticipated to go fully live in July.

Of particular interest, though, are the keyword lists and also age verification. Linden Lab is going to be maintaining a secret list of keywords, the presence of any of which in any descriptive text will prevent that item from appearing as a search result to those who have not (a) undergone age verification, and (b) do not have Adult search results enabled. Accounts which have not undergone verification will not be able to access Adult regions at all, or to enable Adult search results.

That list is being kept a closely guarded secret. What that essentially means is that it’s pretty trivial to determine which words are on it, and some users have already done so. The list may change, but it is a matter of only minutes (and a little database pummeling) to determine the exact contents of the keywords list.

Linden Lab have chosen to keep the list a secret, so that people will not be able to work around it. Unfortunately, by its very nature, it needs to be about the worst-kept secret around. It would be kinder to the database just to publish the list, so that people don’t have to brute-force a solution — because they will. I fully expect to see a public and frequently updated list online that publicizes the Adult keywords list before long.

But hey, you’ve got to age-verify for that, right?

That involves either going through the Identity-Verification system that Linden Lab has engaged Aristotle for (which has proven to be unworkable for many, or of otherwise dubious utility), or putting payment information on file on your Second Life account.

Yes, it’s really that simple. So simple, a child could do it. Literally.

What payment methods, exactly constitute verification of age, exactly? According to a spokesperson for Linden Lab, “Any payment method we currently take. PayPal accounts used on XStreet SL will need to be Verified PayPal accounts.

Last time we looked, credit card providers expressly prohibited the use of credit cards as an age verification mechanism in their merchant and payment-processor agreements. That makes this somewhat of a dubious stretch, contractually. However, Linden Lab outsources payment processing, so while their payment-processor might be at risk of reprisals from card-companies, there’s probably no real barrier to the Lab using credit cards as an age verification mechanism.

Aside from the fact that possession of a credit card nowadays is independent of age, prepaid credit cards are available to all ages (some major card companies are issuing prepaid cards to infants), and regular credit cards are available to anyone old enough to hold a job flipping burgers or sweeping floors. In fact, there may be more minors with cards that are indistinguishable from traditional credit cards now than there are adults with them. But there’s always your mum’s purse if you’re hell-bent on tradition.

Linden Lab, however, is out of the liability loop on all of this, so long as they do not make public statements warranting the effectiveness of their age-verification system, or statements that the users are in a legally safer position than they were before. Either could land the Lab with some expensive and embarrassing lawsuits the first time little Suzy gets caught out with Adult content.


  1. Is that word cloud the actual words? LL need to learn the intricacies of using “foreign” ( to them), and punctuation filled words … I hope they have more than you have displayed on that cloud, because search will be filled with w.ank, and c.ock, etc, ad infinitum before you can shake a stick at it. Not to mention the alt chars..

  2. TateruNino says

    It was until we blurred them out, yes. We got a bit of immediate feedback on the image, which I feel is a rather telling response in and of itself.

  3. Isn't age-verification a bit of a dead issue?

    Why are Linden Lab more liable for age verification than any website delivering hard-core (human) porn? Since a credit card is verification enough to access some of the most extreme porn on the internet why should it not be enough to access potentially pornographic 'cartoons' in SL?

    Credit cards are completely distinguishable – of course banks and financial institutions know the difference between pre-paid kid-cards and credit cards, they're also keeping transaction profiles on all of us. If Linden want to prevent access to SL based on card-type then they can and will.

  4. Wolfie Rankin says

    Time to rename all your bits “budgies” (the smuggled kind).

    I refuse to be neutered, what's in my pants, stays in my pants.

    The poor, much maligned penis gets blamed for so much these days, where once they were worshipped in ancient Greece and India, and sill has a festival devoted to it in Japan.

    But now must hang in fear of being blamed for scarring of childrens little minds for the rest of their lives.


  5. TateruNino says

    We prefer the term “snurble bits” 🙂

  6. You know, I'm wondering that myself? Why *can't* Linden Labs match the efforts of other virtual worlds, online games, and adult-content porn sites? Why are they going to such extreme efforts, guaranteeing further loss of income and their user base, to “ensure” protection of children they won't admit to wanting to bring onto the adult grid anyway?

    I don't get it. I'm paranoid enough to think something else is going on, but I haven't figured out *what*, yet.

  7. Much as I hate conspiracy theories, I really do believe the most plausible explanation is “they want all the residents to leave so they can concentrate on virtual conference rooms for businesses.”

  8. So…Second Life wants to be the virtual Doubletree?

    Really, now, is there money in that? Even hotels with conference rooms have to rent out to individuals on occasion…

  9. Personally, no, I don't think it's a profitable model. But I think Mark Kingdon thinks it is. Maybe he's right.

  10. TateruNino says

    By US FTC standards, a simple “Are you over 18? Yes/No” is a sufficient best-practice age-check system for porn-sites, etc. However, we know that this is insufficient. Beyond that, age-checking gets more arduous, but not really any more effective, unfortunately.

  11. I suppose it solves nothing to say 'But they should do it *better*'–in all fairness, after everything else that's happened in SL, maybe they truly don't know *how*.

    But from the beginning, this has been a highly charged, highly contested issue, and they don't seem invested in making it *any* easier.

  12. TateruNino says

    I'm not sure it's possible. I've listened to many dozens of suggestions on how to perform age-verification, and in the end, most of them are either ineffective, or arduous or both. I can only think of one solution that improves substantively on success-rates, and it *is* somewhat more arduous than most folks would probably like.

  13. You know…if kids REALLY want in that bad…they'll find a way in. Also, kids shouldn't really be on the adult grid in the first place, there are plenty of little sites and virtual worlds for them, so the little turds shouldn't be making our lives any more difficult.

  14. You know…if kids REALLY want in that bad…they'll find a way in. Also, kids shouldn't really be on the adult grid in the first place, there are plenty of little sites and virtual worlds for them, so the little turds shouldn't be making our lives any more difficult.

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