IBM Publishes Virtual World Guidelines

Today IBM published their Virtual World Guidelines at their website:

IBM Virtual World Guidelines

These guidelines are being published for the benefit of IBM employees, but everyone involved in virtual worlds should take note and be aware of what IBM is doing in this space. 

Here’s the list of guidelines from the IBM article:

·         Engage. IBM encourages its employees to explore responsibly – indeed, to further the development of – new spaces of relationship-building, learning and collaboration.

·         Use your good judgment. As in physical communities, good and bad will be found in virtual worlds. You will need to exercise good judgment as to how to react in these situations – including whether to opt out or proceed.

·         Protect your – and IBM’s – good name. At this point in time, assume that activities in virtual worlds and/or the 3D Internet are public – much as is participation in public chat rooms or blogs. Be mindful that your actions may be visible for a long time. If you conduct business for IBM in a virtual world or if you are or may appear to be speaking for or on behalf of IBM, make sure you are explicitly authorized to do so by your management.

·         Protect others’ privacy. It is inappropriate to disclose or use IBM’s or our clients’ confidential or proprietary information – or any personal information of any other person or company (including their real name) – within a virtual world.

·         Make the right impression. Your avatar’s appearance should be reasonable and fitting for the activities in which you engage (especially if conducting IBM business). If you are engaged in a virtual world primarily for IBM business purposes, we strongly encourage you to identify your avatar as affiliated with IBM. If you are engaged primarily for personal uses, consider using a different avatar.

·         Protect IBM’s and others’ intellectual property. IBM has a long-established policy of respecting the intellectual property of others, and of protecting its own intellectual property. Just as we take care in our physical-world activities to avoid infringement of intellectual property rights and to provide proper attribution of such rights, so we must in our activities in virtual worlds – in particular with regard to the creation of rich content.

·         IBM business should be conducted in virtual environments only with authorization. You should not make commitments or engage in activities on behalf of IBM unless you are explicitly authorized to do so and have management approval and delegations. If you are authorized, you may be asked by IBM management to conduct IBM business through a separate avatar or persona reserved for business use. You should certainly decide to use a separate avatar or persona if you think your use of an existing one might compromise your ability to represent IBM appropriately.

·         Be truthful and consistent. Building a reputation of trust within a virtual world represents a commitment to be truthful and accountable with fellow digital citizens. You may be violating such trust by dramatically altering your digital persona’s behavior or abandoning your digital persona to another operator who changes its behavior. If you are the original creator or launcher of a digital persona, you have a higher level of responsibility for its behavior.  

·         Dealing with inappropriate behavior. IBM strives to create a workplace that is free from discrimination or harassment, and the company takes steps to remedy any problems. However, IBM cannot control and is not responsible for the activity inside virtual worlds. If you are in a virtual environment in conjunction with your work at IBM and you encounter behavior that would not be acceptable inside IBM, you should “walk away” or even sign out of the virtual world. You should report abuse to the service provider. And as always, if you encounter an inappropriate situation in a</b>] virtual world which you believe to be work-related, you should bring this to the attention of IBM, either through your manager or through an IBM internal appeal channel.

·         Be a good 3D Netizen. IBMers should be thoughtful, collaborative and innovative in their participation in virtual world communities – including in deliberations over behavioral/social norms and rules of thumb.

·         Live our values and follow IBM’s Business Conduct Guidelines. As a general rule, your private life is your own. You must, however, be sensitive to avoid activities in a virtual world that reflect negatively on IBM. Therefore, you must follow and be guided by IBM’s values and Business Conduct Guidelines in virtual worlds just as in the physical world, including by complying with the Agreement Regarding Confidentiality and Intellectual Property that you signed when you became an IBM employee. It is obviously most important to do so whenever you identify yourself as an IBMer and engage in any discussions or activities that relate to IBM or its business, or use any of IBM’s communications systems or other assets to participate in a virtual world.

There are several items here that really make a lot of sense, these are things that you would assume are common knowledge.  However, in my 25 years online I’ve seen ample evidence that some people check their common sense at the door when entering these virtual and online spaces. 

Everyone who is in-world, especially in open spaces (non-private), representing a company or organization should represent themselves as they would at work or in a social work setting.  There is no magical barrier between the real world and virtual world.  This is not Las Vegas, things that happen in virtual worlds often don’t stay in the virtual world.  People would do well to have multiple avatars/accounts for personal and professional activities.  And when acting in a professional role, dress accordingly (as if you were attending in the real world). 

As a further expansion on the rules for acting in a professional role, a person needs to build relationships in-world based on trust and integrity.  If you are in-world conducting classes or running a business you need to build the same sort of relationships as you would in the real world if doing the same activity.  Being a good Netizen is key to building a good reputation in-world. 

With educators, you really do need to follow the conduct code of your organization when online.  It’s a lot easier to capture images and video in-world as it is in real life.  If you would be embarrassed by your activities in-world with your work/teacher avatar, don’t use that avatar or account.  Again, as we approach a metaverse model (IBM’s current vision) you will need to take care to preserve the image and reputation of your avatar.  I envision that once IBM (or someone else) gets a system in place to allow you to move your avatar between virtual worlds, many people will create avatars to represent themselves as their primary avatar.  Linden Lab has already moved to allow people to have their real name as their avatar name for a fee. 

As virtual worlds move closer to mainstream, issues of identity and privacy will take center stage and need to be debated in our society to decide how people will deal with these new identities.  All issues related to identity in the real world will be extended into the virtual, and then some.  What will happen if someone assumes your identity through a visual copy of your avatar?  What if someone hacks into your account and takes control of your identity and virtual property?   How will you verify your identity in-world in a business, educational or commercial setting?  

Society will need to decide how these issues are dealt with.  It’s encouraging to see large companies like IBM attempting to address these issues.  It’s even more encouraging to see these companies encouraging their employees to explore these virtual spaces for business.  Read the full IBM article for a lot more information on these Virtual World Guidelines. 


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