November 28, 2006

The Atlantic TNRO on Second Life [3:38 pm]

Should the government regulate virtual reality? (sorry, registration required)

With fist fights and muggings breaking out after the release of Sony’s PlayStation III, it’s clear that video games aren’t just for kids any more. But even the PlayStation is child’s play for the 1.4 million players in “Second Life,” a virtual-reality universe that is fast becoming one of the hottest places online. Not only do they spend the bulk of their free time logged onto it (one-third spend more hours a day in it than out), but a large subset even turns a sizeable profit, in some cases enough to live on. One “Second Life” entrepreneur, a German-Chinese woman named Ailin Graf, makes an estimated $150,000 a year buying and developing “Second Life” real estate–virtual land that is in reality nothing more than ones and zeroes. Real-world companies are getting involved, as well: For a price, players can outfit their virtual selves (called “avatars”) in American Apparel clothing, buy tricked-out Toyota Scions, and slip on a pair of digital Reeboks.

[...] [A]s “Second Life” grows in size and popularity, and as the links between “first” and “second life” strengthen, another question looms: At what point does it truly stop being a game and become an extension of the real world–and thus subject to real world government intervention?

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Escalation [6:10 am]

Web Tool Said to Offer Way Past the Government Censor

The program, called psiphon (pronounced “SY-fon”), will be released on Dec. 1 in response to growing Internet censorship that is pushing citizens in restrictive countries to pursue more elaborate and sophisticated programs to gain access to Western news sites, blogs and other censored material.

“The problem is growing exponentially,” said Ronald Deibert, director of the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, which designed psiphon. “What might have started as censorship of pornography and Western news organizations has expanded to include blogging sites, religious sites, health information sites and many others.”

Psiphon is downloaded by a person in an uncensored country (psiphon.civisec.org), turning that person’s computer into an access point. Someone in a restricted-access country can then log into that computer through an encrypted connection and using it as a proxy, gain access to censored sites. The program’s designers say there is no evidence on the user’s computer of having viewed censored material once they erase their Internet history after each use. The software is part of a broader effort to live up to the initial hopes human rights activists had that the Internet would provide unprecedented freedom of expression for those living in restrictive countries.

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