Apparently “American and British spies have infiltrated the fantasy worlds of World of Warcraft and Second Life, conducting surveillance and scooping up data in the online games played by millions of people across the globe” as reported by the New York Times.
This is particularly significant given the size and scope of these virtual worlds. As of July 2013 World of Warcraft had 7.7 million users and according to Wikipedia is the “largest MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game) in the world and holds the Guinness World Record for the most popular MMORPG by subscribers.”
On Second Life’s 10th Anniversary in June 2013 it announced it has more than 36 million accounts created, 1 million visitors a month, and $3.2 billion in ‘total transactions among users for virtual goods within the Second Life economy.’
The New York Times report included this comment about British intelligence officers:
…vacuumed up three days’ worth of Second Life chat, instant message and financial transaction data, totaling 176,677 lines of data, which included the content of the communications.
Second Life owner Linden Research has not commented, but World of Warcraft owner Blizzard Entertainment (Irvine, California) said “we are unaware of any surveillance taking place”:
…neither the N.S.A. nor its British counterpart, the Government Communications Headquarters, had gotten permission to gather intelligence in its game.
This news may be shocking to the virtual world community, but hardly a surprise given the revelations of government spying.