FTC: Virtual worlds pose real threat to minors

Researchers found that IMVU and Kaneva also use several automated techniques to enforce divisions between minors and adults registered in their worlds. Both worlds limit search functions between these two age groups. In addition, Kaneva divides its public spaces into “under 18” and “18-and-older” categories. Minors are not visible “in world” to Kaneva members who are 18 years or older.

IMVU adult users can send messages to minors who are registered as age 13 to 17, and vice versa. However, IMVU does not allow users who are registered as 18 and over to search for users who are registered as age 13 to 17, so they must know an underage user’s avatar name to send him or her a message. For a fee, IMVU offers a voluntary age-verification program whereby adults provide certain items of personal information and are verified as adults, thereby helping verified users establish to other IMVU members that they are engaging with someone whose age is, in fact, the age indicated on the verified user’s profile.

Despite these measures, explicit content is easily accessible in these worlds’ general access areas free of charge.

Second Life was implementing its “Adult Content Initiative” during the study. This initiative has several components. World operators first developed and implemented a three-tiered rating system—PG, Mature, or Adult—to be used to identify content and set individual preferences for Second Life users.

Second Life users who host, conduct, or display content that is sexually explicit or intensely violent, or that depicts illicit drug use, must designate such content as “Adult,” and only users who are payment- or age-verified—”account verified”—may access such content.

To become account verified, users must complete a valid payment, generally through use of a credit card or PayPal, or be age-verified, free of charge, through an arrangement that Second Life has with a third-party age verification vendor.

Second Life will filter search listings so that only account verified users may view adult-oriented “search tags.”

Second Life has created a new adult-oriented portion of its mainland, called “Zindra,” and all adult content previously located elsewhere on the mainland is required to be relocated to Zindra.

Nevertheless, like IMVU and Kaneva, at least during the FTC’s review, explicit content was still easily available free of charge in Second Life, without account verification.


Virtual Worlds and Kids: Mapping the Risks

Laura Ascione

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