Freedom, Privacy, Property and Personal Security in Avatar Cyberspace

A new frontier has opened on the Internet: the virtual world. Virtual worlds combine visual virtual reality with text-based electronic community such as MUDs and chat environments. No longer limited to just an email address or alias handle, people can now represent themselves visually in a digital costume called an "avatar" and travel through two and three dimensional landscapes spreading out across the Internet. The new citizens of these worlds communicate in text and voice, engage in shared learning and collaborative work and build simple structures or entire virtual worlds of their own. This "avatar Cyberspace" is growing rapidly, with total user population in mid 1996 exceeding 250,000.

We will begin the session with a guided tour of several virtual worlds running live on the Internet and review numerous cases from the two year history virtual worlds which raise serious questions of freedom, privacy, property and personal security. Some of the virtual worlds and cases to be demonstrated (and the world providers) include:

We will conclude the session by posing a series of open ended questions and soliciting audience input.

The virtual worlds medium inherits many of the same issues of freedom and privacy discussed at past CFP conferences. However, the virtual worlds medium creates some new twists:

There are far more questions surrounding this medium, and we expect that the CFP97 attendees will quickly expand on this list.

End of session proposal.

Further Background Information on the Consortium

The Contact Consortium was formed in early 1995 as a non-profit forum for the emerging medium of virtual worlds on the Internet. Providing our extensive academic expertise in the sciences of human communities to the builders of virtual worlds, we hope to enrich this powerful new medium of human contact. We are serving as a neutral forum for the development of standards and the discussion of technical and social issues arising in the "avatar Cyberspace" of virtual worlds. Lastly, we carry out extensive trans-national exercises and research in the medium, having built and administered a virtual village, hosted social gatherings and constructed a virtual university campus. More information about the Consortium, its activities and membership can be found at

Participating Companies

Member and other companies participating in our educational and research programs currently include:

Intel, Phillips, Nortel, Worlds Incorporated, Black Sun Interactive, Microsoft, Fujitsu, America Online, IDS, Construct, Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Software, The Palace Inc.,, Paragraph International, 3rd Dimension, DimensionX, and others.

Biography of the presenter

Bruce Damer is a founding director of the Contact Consortium, a key forum and standards body for virtual worlds on the Internet. He is author of Avatars, Addison Wesley Longman (1997) and a featured speaker on social issues in avatar Cyberspace at conferences such as ACM CHI, CSCW, SIGGRAPH, MediARTech, the American Association of Anthropologists and other venues. He has written numerous articles on the subject and appears on radio and television.