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FTC report on Virtual Worlds & mature content accessibility

kat · 1 · 17021

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Offline kat

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To give this its full title; "Virtual Worlds and Kids: Mapping the Risks". It's an interesting and contradictory read, in almost the exact same way the (UK's) Byron Report was. In a nutshell  the FTC's report looks to Virtual World developers and business owners to get tough with regards to issues concerning the accessibility kids have to adult material when they using their products and services. A laudable aim I'm sure you'll agree, kids should be kids and adults, adults, never the twain should meet.


The report sensationalises the presence of 'adult' material in virtual worlds, citing numbers to the effect that approximately 2/3rds of the 30 or so worlds they looked at, contained material they deemed both sexually and violently 'explicit' (more on this below). The point seems laboured so as to distract from the fact that, in their own words, very few of these worlds actually had mature content that was easily to get at for 'ordinary' or 'standard' user accounts.

Even for the one or two that did, it was had at the end of 'tricking' the registration process into doing what was needed to get at it in whatever that form took - taking advantage of poorly implemented account set-up protocols to outright falsification of information ("identity fraud" for want of a better way to put it).

The point seemed missed that this shows a sense of willfulness to be doing something that shouldn't be done, to keep at the various systems to try and find ways around them. In other words they essentially had to 'hack' or do something that would ordinarily compromise an account to gain access to the explicit/adult content.

This leads to "Mapping the Risks" supposing (they don't 'suppose', they actually 'state' this) that Virtual Worlds are to blame for user dishonesty and as a result, should be the ones to take steps to combat this (read that as "the ones to be blamed/those that must take responsibility for other peoples/Users behaviour"). The latter part of this is laudable in that yes, it's in the best interests of Virtual Worlds to effectively 'look after' their user base because they're the bread and butter of the business. But, just how far does/can that go when, as the FTC report itself repeatedly admits, there are limits to how much is possible with current technology - using various forms of ID checks are only so good as clarifying whether the ID itself is valid, not the person using it; it can just as easily be used by the parent or a child to validate an account, anywhere, not just in a Virtual World.

And this seems to be the whole point missed in these discussions of accessibility, biased as they are by partisan political ruminations. They arm the uninformed parent just as readily as the misinformed politician with talking points and sound bites and nothing ever actually gets done, except for expedient finger pointing and litigious ambulance chasing. No one ever seems to stop to ask just who these miscreants are that muck about online or indeed why they do it; you could be forgiven for thinking that all minors with access to a computer and the Internet try logging in to services they're not supposed to, pretty much finding a way around all sorts of validation systems in the process.

Not being necessarily conspiratorial by nature this does trigger the ol' my spidey-sense. It suggests the rationale, of easy access, intentionally misrepresented as it is, will be used as a self-reinforcing justification for further control directly over the Internet (as it's lead to in the UK through the Digital Economy Bill). Or, indirect control over an individuals access to it via something like bio-metrics; neither of which solves the fundamental problem of people (kids) doing things they shouldn't be doing. Issues of this nature always seem to end up with the same question being asked "where are the parents in all this mess?".