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The New Virtual Red-Light District: Second Life Tackles Its Sex Problem

This story was written by Tameka Kee.
A major part of Second Life's appeal is that people can make their avatars into anything they want: vampires, steampunks, fashion models and, of course, strippers and escorts. Sex sells in Second Life, just like it does in the real world; though there aren't any hard stats, adult and sex-related transactions make up a significant portion of the $35 million in real money that Linden Lab says filters through its virtual economy each month. But adult activities are also what has kept certain brands and companies from setting up shop in-world, so Linden Lab announced that it will be restricting such activities to an "Adult Continent." 

In an official blog post, Linden Lab said the idea was to "improve Second Life for everyone" and "give residents more control over what they see." But VP of customer relations Cyn Linden also told New World Notes that it would help "businesses and education [groups] to feel more comfortable about what they encounter" in-world. The company said it would solicit feedback in its forums and message boards to come up with a working definition of adult activity, which could include "explicit sexual conduct or genitalia," "representations of intense violence" and "stimulated drug use," among other things. The changes are expected to roll out over the next few months.

More after the jump.

The adults-only zone will be separate from the mainland; people who want access will need to be age-verified through either a credit card or Linden Lab's own verification service. Residents that own land earmarked for adult activities will not have to move, but they'll be required to rope off the area and set up age-verification controls. Adult-related content will also be filtered from the Google-powered search listings, meaning people will have to search for it explicitly.

Linden Lab has struggled with ethical and regulatory issues in Second Life in the past, including accusations of child pornography that forced it to ban "age-play," or the depiction of erotic activities using child avatars in 2007 (via Reuters). It also had to crack down on "banks" that promised residents sky-high interest rates for their "investments" and then collapsed, taking users' real-world money with them; the idea is to govern Second Life in a way that maximizes freedom, but keeps real-world authorities from stepping in.

Photo Credit: yukali

By Tameka Kee