Yet Again, Real Police Called Into Virtual World Over (Not Really) Theft Of Virtual Items

from the not-again dept

Back in 2007 we wrote about how police had arrested a kid for "stealing" virtual furniture in the virtual world, Habbo Hotel. At the time, we pointed out how problematic it is when real laws (and real police) cross over into virtual worlds. What if "stealing" is a part of the game? Even if it's not, it seems like these are cases where the folks who run Habbo Hotel should handle it via terms of service issues, rather than getting the real police involved. If virtual items are "stolen," then Habbo should be able to give them back. That's one of the nice things about a virtual world where there is no scarcity and where there's the ability to bring "stolen" things back.

However, it looks like that's not happening any time soon. A bunch of folks have sent in the news that the Habbo Hotel folks have now asked Finnish police to investigate 400 cases of "theft" in their world. Seriously. Of course it is a bit more complicated than that. They're really upset about phishing scams that let scammers get users login information, which they then use to get into their account and transfer the virtual goods away. But that's not really "theft" and it's a misnomer to call it that. And, really, if Habbo Hotel users are getting phished so frequently, perhaps the Habbo developers should focus on building a better login system that is not so susceptible to simple phishing scams...


Reader Comments (rss)

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  1.  
    identicon
    John Doe, Jun 4th, 2010 @ 7:09am

    Where do I sign up?

    I want to sign up to be a virtual cop where I can be hooked into the matrix, I mean virtual world, and run around and arrest people. Is it ok if I accept protection money though, since it isn't real money?

     

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  2.  
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    David Simmons, Jun 4th, 2010 @ 7:33am

    Virtual Law Enforcement

    It would seem to make sense that a virtual world could have virtual law enforcement. This does not need to spill out into the real world.

     

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  3.  
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    CoughingMonkey (profile), Jun 4th, 2010 @ 7:34am

    virtual theft

    They should have the 'perp' go to a virtual court where he will be tried and convicted by a virtual judge and jury then serve time in a virtual prison. while paying a virtual fine. all in the name of virtue.

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 4th, 2010 @ 7:49am

    Bad programming

    Just another case of not knowing how to secure a database. You have to set parameters that are only active when a transaction is in progress. It really simple to secure a database. It sounds like they use a shared hosting system like GoDaddy or one of the many insecure web hosters. You would think a site that large would host their own servers and if they do, then they need new employees.

     

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  5.  
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    Liam (profile), Jun 4th, 2010 @ 7:49am

    I'm sorry, but some of these kids have payed hundreds if not thousands of pounds for these items, and if someone logs into your account, and transfers it away, you have lost it and it has cost you in the real world. It's all well and good saying they could just give it back, but that means when anyone is unhappy with a trade of items that they agreed to, they could say it was stolen, and waste moderator time on non-issues as they determine if it actually was stolen or an agreed trade. To say it's not theft because, 1, it's virtual and 2 the scammer used phishing techniques is just plain wrong. If someone logged into your online bank account in a similar fashion, you would happily call that theft. Wouldn't you?

     

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  6.  
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    Liam (profile), Jun 4th, 2010 @ 7:51am

    Re: Bad programming

    Got nothing to do with the database.

    Trading is part of the game, if someone logs into your account and then transfers your furniture to another account, tell me how this is because of an insecure database.

     

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  7.  
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    tuna, Jun 4th, 2010 @ 7:53am

    The thefts translate into real world dollars. The items are transfered to another player and then resold at a discount.

    Replacing the items would throw the virtual econamy out of whack and also open up the possibility of virtual insurance fraud.

    I create a second acccount, transfer my goods to it, claim theft and get all my items replaced for free. Meanwhile I have sold my other goods from the second account.

    In a virtual world where items cost real world money you have to retain a false scarcity to make the site succeed.

     

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  8.  
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    Liam (profile), Jun 4th, 2010 @ 7:55am

    Re:

    At least someone understands the issues at hand here.
    Virtual doesn't mean free.

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 4th, 2010 @ 7:57am

    Re: virtual theft

    I played a game that has this feature. The penalty from being in jail was boredom because there wasn't much game play there.

     

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  10.  
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    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Jun 4th, 2010 @ 7:58am

    Re:

    "I'm sorry, but some of these kids have payed hundreds if not thousands of pounds for these items..."

    So what? Take it up with Habbo. Don't waste my tax dollars over this crap.

     

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  11.  
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    Liam (profile), Jun 4th, 2010 @ 7:59am

    Re: Re:

    Erm, if someone stole your ipod do you take it up with apple? Don't be ridiculous.

    real cost = real problem

     

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  12.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 4th, 2010 @ 8:14am

    Re:

    In other words, it's a retarded game.

     

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  13.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 4th, 2010 @ 8:18am

    "Yet Again, Real Police Called Into Virtual World Over (Not Really) Theft Of Virtual Items"

    I wonder if they would enter with real guns or virtual guns.

     

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  14.  
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    Liam (profile), Jun 4th, 2010 @ 8:20am

    Re: Re:

    how exactly? Also, it's only technically a game, it's simply supposed to be a graphical chat program, monetised through the sale of virtual items.

     

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  15.  
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    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Jun 4th, 2010 @ 8:28am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Real world police for real world problems. This is a case of allocation of bits on someone's computer.

    And yeah, I get that the line gets blurry, but this isn't one of those times. Habbo could make this right with a keystroke. At most, this is a civil complaint.

     

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  16.  
    identicon
    CoughingMonkey, Jun 4th, 2010 @ 8:30am

    virtual theft

    They should have the 'perp' go to a virtual court where he will be tried and convicted by a virtual judge and jury then serve time in a virtual prison. while paying a virtual fine. all in the name of virtue.

     

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  17.  
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    jjmsan (profile), Jun 4th, 2010 @ 8:45am

    Re:

    Money in a bank account is not virtual. It represents a real items that exist in a real world. Your example fails on that point.

     

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  18.  
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    jjmsan (profile), Jun 4th, 2010 @ 8:46am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Once again you are confusing real scarce items with virtual.

     

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  19.  
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    jjmsan (profile), Jun 4th, 2010 @ 8:49am

    Re:

    It is up to Habbo to police their program against that not the government.

     

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  20.  
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    Liam (profile), Jun 4th, 2010 @ 8:55am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    but for habbo to work at all an artificial scarcity has to exist, for a lot of players a big part of the game is trading, and working with the rareity of items etc.

    There are many problems that arise if habbo would just give people the furniture back, ie what if someone traded with the scammer, and now they loose the furniture because it was "stolen goods", how do they get re compensated? This world is designed for young teenagers, how many false reports do you think would happen of they thought they could get free items?

    Virtual doesn't mean easy to fix without breaking the game dynamic..think this stuff through or at least learn what habbo is, what it does and who the users are before brushing it all off as "virtual".

    The lines are not blurred at all, real world money.

     

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  21.  
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    Shaun, Jun 4th, 2010 @ 9:05am

    Virtual Insurance

    It seems to me, in this virtual world you buy items and put them in your room, that someone basically robs your room cos you've left the door open (allowing phishers to get your log in details)

    All they need is virtual insurance. Customers win cos they're covered against loss and Habbo get extra money for doing not very much

     

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  22.  
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    Liam (profile), Jun 4th, 2010 @ 9:16am

    Re: Virtual Insurance

    and more people start trying to get into other peoples accounts as a user can request new items based on their insurance, also, insurance scams would be laughably easy.

     

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  23.  
    identicon
    Shaun, Jun 4th, 2010 @ 9:17am

    Re: Virtual Insurance

    And obviously insurance premiums would depend on all the usual factors you get in the real world. So if someone is getting repeatedly 'robbed' they should start paying higher premiums.

     

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  24.  
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    Shaun, Jun 4th, 2010 @ 9:21am

    Re: Re: Virtual Insurance

    Insurance scams are pretty easy to pull off in the real world also.

    If someone is pulling off insurance scams the habbo company still makes money as the cost of replacing items is 0. The cost of the insurance could also be set at a level close to the resell value which means there'd be little profit in trying to defraud the system.

    Just a few thoughts

     

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  25.  
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    Sneeje (profile), Jun 4th, 2010 @ 9:54am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    All of which is Habbo's problem. Habbo created the world, Habbo created the terms of service, Habbo created the economy. If there is monetary harm that is inflicted on someone due to activities that occur in that environment--the problem is Habbo's.

    Are we going to investigate someone for murder if they kill someone's character in the game? Remember, that character (and their belongings) cost money. I'll help... the answer is absolutely not.

    Civil complaint, not criminal, sorry.

     

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  26.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 4th, 2010 @ 9:57am

    I doubt that pinning this on habbo's log-in system development is proper. There are companies with far more money and have spent far more effort (blizzard) trying to stop account hacking and failed. The fact of the matter is you can't fix human stupidy (yet)

     

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  27.  
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    rhandomina, Jun 4th, 2010 @ 10:21am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    This isn't just 'bits on the screen' -- generally, organized phishing scams are groups emptying accounts gained to sell the items to other users for profit. i.e. cash, real money, credit cards, etc.

    Habbo sells virtual goods. Other people trying to undercut prices with stolen goods, makes it more difficult for Habbo to sell virtual goods. As well, the issues of trying to sort out reconciling 'victims' of digital item theft -- if the stolen items have already been sold offsite and traded multiple times, this leads to the users now in possession being quite upset (regardless of whether they realize they are in possession of stolen goods). Simply creating a duplicate to restore to the original user's inventory throws the economic balance out of whack.

    For crazy virtual micro-economy, Gaia Online, its Exchange forum, circa 2005-2008 was quite interesting. Then the introduction of cash-based premium currency, as well as the seeming increase in phishing scams, as well as flash exploits, derailed things.

     

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  28.  
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    rhandomina, Jun 4th, 2010 @ 10:29am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Additionally (not sure if this applies to Habbo) -- with Gaia as an example, some artists do commissions for users in exchange for virtual world goods. If the goods were 'stolen' are end up being removed from the artist's inventory in the process of reversing a chain of trades to return them to the original user, then the artist is also put out. (In terms of time/effort/supplies that may have been used in completing the commissioned artwork)

     

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  29.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Jun 4th, 2010 @ 10:47am

    Re:

    I'm sorry, but some of these kids have payed hundreds if not thousands of pounds for these items, and if someone logs into your account, and transfers it away, you have lost it and it has cost you in the real world.

    So let Habbo set up a dispute process and unwind such transactions.

    It's all well and good saying they could just give it back, but that means when anyone is unhappy with a trade of items that they agreed to, they could say it was stolen, and waste moderator time on non-issues as they determine if it actually was stolen or an agreed trade.

    So, you honestly think that wasting taxpayer money is more important than having Habbo properly administer its own game?

    To say it's not theft because, 1, it's virtual and 2 the scammer used phishing techniques is just plain wrong. If someone logged into your online bank account in a similar fashion, you would happily call that theft. Wouldn't you?

    Money is scarce (tied to value). Virtual furniture is not.

     

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  30.  
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    chris (profile), Jun 4th, 2010 @ 10:58am

    Re:

    I'm sorry, but some of these kids have payed hundreds if not thousands of pounds for these items, and if someone logs into your account, and transfers it away, you have lost it and it has cost you in the real world.

    trading items for real money violates pretty much every online game's terms of service, even the games where you pay the game money for items. the "stealing" of virtual items is a TOS problem, not a real world one.

    the problem is that the players can be phished, and that the game lacks the capability to track items and transactions, a mechanism for players to file grievances, and a method to rollback transactions that are proven to be fraudulent. that's a development problem.

     

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  31.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 4th, 2010 @ 11:10am

    Credit is virtual money. What if someone stole your credit card and maxed it out, should that be the credit cards problem to deal with?

     

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  32.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 4th, 2010 @ 11:10am

    Uh oh...Better stop playing Deathmatch or else I'll have the police knocking on my door for being a serial killer...

     

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  33.  
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    chris (profile), Jun 4th, 2010 @ 11:20am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    There are many problems that arise if habbo would just give people the furniture back, ie what if someone traded with the scammer, and now they loose the furniture because it was "stolen goods", how do they get re compensated?

    you ban the scammers account(s) and reverse all the trades that account conducted since the victim's account was compromised. too bad habbo lacks that ability.

    databases are pretty good at this kind of thing, you just have to write your programs so they can make use of the technology:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ACID_transactions

    the problem is that most, if not all online games lack these capabilities because they have to 1)log and retain the data necessary to track user transactions and 2)have the tools available to identify fraudulent transactions and reverse them. that means collecting and potentially analyzing lots of data, having people create the tools for tracking fraudulent transactions, and having people actually do the work to track and fix these problems.

    hardware and personnel cost the game companies money, so for habbo it's cheaper to just call the finnish police.

    coincidentally, added cost is the exact same reason why ISP's hate government mandated retention of user activity data.

     

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  34.  
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    chris (profile), Jun 4th, 2010 @ 11:25am

    Re: Re: Re: Virtual Insurance

    If someone is pulling off insurance scams the habbo company still makes money as the cost of replacing items is 0. The cost of the insurance could also be set at a level close to the resell value which means there'd be little profit in trying to defraud the system.

    also, insured items could be flagged once a claim is submitted and tracked through the system.

     

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  35.  
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    chris (profile), Jun 4th, 2010 @ 11:28am

    Re: Re: virtual theft

    The penalty from being in jail was boredom because there wasn't much game play there.

    another penalty is time lost. a lot of items in games represent an investment of time, if your toon is rotting in jail, you are losing valuable leveling, raiding, farming, or crafting time.

     

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  36.  
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    chris (profile), Jun 4th, 2010 @ 11:31am

    Re:

    Credit is virtual money. What if someone stole your credit card and maxed it out, should that be the credit cards problem to deal with?

    currency is also virtual money when you think about it. it's not backed by real gold or anything like that.

    a lot of fraud protection in credit cards return a significant portion of fraudulent charges. it's the merchant that suffers when it comes to credit fraud.

     

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  37.  
    identicon
    Art, Jun 4th, 2010 @ 11:42am

    Re: Re: Re:

    If someone takes your ipod, it is physically gone. If someone transfers a fake item on a game, the item is not gone. Prove it was transferred by someone not you, and the item can magically be recreated by the game owners. This is more like you leaving your ipod on a bench in a crowded place for an entire day, and complaining that someone owes you a new ipod for your stupidity of not securing it properly. Either way, police should not be involved, and these idiots should be educated on not falling for phishing scams to "steal" property that doesn't exist in the first place.

     

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  38.  
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    DocMenach (profile), Jun 4th, 2010 @ 11:56am

    Maybe this will clear it up

    Here you go. Quoted straight from Habbo Hotel's Terms of Service:

    You have no property interest in Habbo® Coins, Premium Subscriptions, your avatar, virtual items (e.g., Habbo® Furni or rares), which remain the exclusive property of Sulake subject only to your limited, non-transferable revocable license to use such for in-game play subject to these Terms and Conditions of Sale and the Terms of Use. Any attempt to sell or transfer same will result in an automatic termination of such license. Further, as these are merely licensed game play activities, they are deemed consumed upon purchase like putting a quarter in an arcade game and terminate upon any termination of your account.

    See that? Habbo specifically states that users actually have ZERO property rights on virtual items. They also state that the items are "licensed game play activities" and have no actual value. So by Habbo's own words these "stolen" virtual items are completely valueless.

     

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  39.  
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    vyvyan, Jun 4th, 2010 @ 1:16pm

    Why don't they get their own hobo police? Or they don't have enough virtual money to pay to virtual police in their virtual world. Habbo Hotel, what a bunch of no good hobos.

     

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  40.  
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    cj (profile), Jun 4th, 2010 @ 1:51pm

    Pretend

    that the world uses real money. Even if this means finding a way for users to generate that pretend money. Log all transactions, IPs, and swaps.

     

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  41.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 4th, 2010 @ 2:54pm

    Re:

    There are really only two ways someone can gain unauthorized access to an account. They can either hack the system or somehow acquire login information (phishing is a common way).

    The first one is Habbo's problem. If somemone hacks the system, it is habbo's fault for having an insecure system.

    In the second one it's just plain stupidity. If you have sensitive information (especially tied to money), you should check and double check before entering that data anywhere. Habbo could be a bit at fault here for not providing a secure login system or alerting the users for the dangers of phishing, but it is still mostly the user's fault.

    Habbo can fix this problem easily. No need to call the police. All they need to do is move a few bytes around and possibly suspend the accounts of the "thieves". It's their problem to solve, not the police.

    Also, your analogy with online banking isn't very solid. An online bank would have certificates and secured connections. Most of them (where I live at least) would never ask you for your full password or access code. Just random parts of it. Also, whenever an online transaction is requested, they send an sms to the registered phone number with a confirmation code (to change the phone number you have to go to the bank, so no way of changing it). There are multi-layered defenses against fraud and phishing. And if someone actually stole my credentials and stole money from my bank, money is a scarce good, not an infinite one such as virtual furniture.


    And finally: who the hell is stupid enough to pay REAL money for VIRTUAL goods? It's like they are asking for it...And also, what happens when habbo shuts down? Do I lose the investment? Just stupid...

     

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  42.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 4th, 2010 @ 3:03pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Habbo's problem. They could sign every rare item with a unique key. This way, they could track every transaction AND control the number of copies.



    Oh and a piece of advice: you better step away from the virtual world for a bit. It's blurring your perception of reality.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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