thoughts and observations of a privacy, security and internet researcher, activist, and policy advisor

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Surveillance, Identity, and Reputation Management in Games and Reality

I stumbled over two unrelated blog posts today, which I immediately connected in my privacy-driven mind. The first is Jamie Lewis from the Burton Group linking to Esther Dysons report of a company called Seriosity. They have developed a reputation and attention management system that works like in-world currencies in online games, e.g. Linden Dollars in Second Life. The idea for this is actually very old and dates back to tribal palaver cultures. It has been brought to the Western world through more recent innovative moderation techniques. We used a similar method once at a meeting in Berlin, where people could donate cinnamon sticks worth a minute each to people they thought should be listened to more. It's really cool when some of the celebrities run out of sticks and no-one is willing to donate any more for them. The thing with Seriosity is that it can and will be used to do some company-wide rating of employees. And here you get the privacy issues again. Cinnamon-sticks are context-sensitive, and their flows are not recorded. But Serios - that's what the currency in Seriosity is called - flow through a corporate server, and in the end might make a full rating of all employees possible. This rating comes from the other employees, not from any automated system. But it might be used for automatically sorting the employees into categories like "overachiever" or "slowpoke", and possibly establishing a performance-based salary system with it. This mght in the end turn into a corporate culture where the attention you get is more important than the actual work you do. It certainly encourages the more extrovert personalities.

The other post is from Michael Zimmer who reports from the Society for Social Studies of Science (4S) annual meeting in Vancouver last week. He sat in on a "fascinating panel" on surveillance in massive multiplayer online games, called "Discipline and Punish: The Game". From the panel abstract:
Because surveillance in these spaces can be absolute, with every character’s movement, communication, and decision logged, recorded, and subject to reproduction, it becomes increasingly important to understand both the productive uses of such technologies, as well as the potential effects on how players perceive the worlds they play and such experiences might transfer to broader questions of surveillance in contemporary society.
Having looked at the literature on digital identity over the last few months, I noticed a number of loose and unconnected ends: In the mid-nineties, people like Sherry Turkle wrote about the distributed, postmodern self that allows for different roles in different online and offline worlds. Then, people turned to the prejudices and stereotypes from the real world and how they are reproduced in online worlds that would not neccessarily need these limitations. The recent literature on identity management looked at how real identities (the ones of real persons) are established and mirrored in online spaces. With the merging of online and offline spaces and identities, the concept of surveillance studies finally is being applied to virtual online worlds. The link between practices of surveillance and practices of identity-management looks like the natural next step to be made. The discussion has just started among the practicioners like Kim Cameron and Ann Cavoukian, but a more academic evaluation is still largely missing. I bet that there will be a lot of studies coming out on this over the next year, and I just hope I find the time to contribute my own little paper.


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