BORN EVERY MINUTE. You'd think that one of the advantages of virtual reality is its supposed detachment from the real world: What goes on there might sometimes be a little bizarre, but what happens in the virtual world stays in the virtual world. Right? Actually, the barriers are beginning to fall. A 17-year-old Dutch was arrested recently for stealing 4,000 euros (about $5,900) worth of virtual furniture from virtual rooms in the virtual Habbo Hotel, a popular 3-D socialnetworking site. Five other teens also have been questioned by police, who suspect them of stealing the furniture and moving it to their own Habbo rooms. What makes this a crime is that other users of the site bought the furniture with real money, as part of the game.

P.T. Barnum had a word that might apply to people who spend real money on virtual furniture, but it's their money, so who are we to judge? About 6 million people in 30 countries go to the Habbo Hotel every month, and we assume they do so willingly.

The real question is why the real-world police are spending real time on this. Can't the Habbo's managers, Helsinki-based Sulake, get the furniture back? What, is it damaged? Soiled? Are there no virtual receipts? It seems the Habbo could use a virtual house detective to handle this business, fine the thief or send the avatar to make virtual license plates, and leave the police to their own world.

TWO STRIKES. You can add the Web sites of Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League to the list of those hit by malware. The BBC reported recently that the sites had been infected with a program that occasionally launches a pop-up ad encouraging users to scan their computers for viruses. If you click to scan, it downloads malware. Obviously, it's best not to swing at that pitch. '

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.

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