Even a minimally savvy youngster can figure out how to access violent or explicitly sexual content in some virtual or Internet worlds, the Federal Trade Commission said on Thursday.
In its survey of online worlds, where users create digital alter egos called avatars and interact with other users' avatars, the commission found that seven of the worlds with the most explicit sex and violence set a minimum age of 13 and an eighth set a minimum age of 18. If children below age 13 attempted to register, they were rejected at five of the sites. “However, two worlds, Kaneva and There.com, rejected child registrations, but then immediately permitted users to re-register as an adult from the same computer,” the report said. Kaneva did not respond to an attempt to reach it for comment but Michael Wilson, CEO of There.com, said that they were looking to address the situation and that they tried to keep their world relatively free of sex and violence. “We recognize that that's a problem and we're trying to deal with it,” he told Reuters. “The amount of violent content and sexual content that they'll find in There is minimal.” Red Light Center, which sets a minimum age of 18 and whose home page contains nudity, also allowed users who were rejected as too young to immediately try again with a different birthday. “Red Light Center's main purpose is to offer sexually explicit content,” the FTC report said. “Yet it employed no mechanism to limit access to underage users at the time of the Commission's study. Indeed, when the Commission selected the virtual world for inclusion in its review, demographic data from comScore, Inc. indicated that nearly 16 percent of Red Light Center's users were under age 18.” Red Light did not return a telephone call seeking comment.
As part of the report, which was requested by Congress, the commission recommended virtual world operators develop better mechanisms to screen out children and ensure that adults in these virtual worlds do not interact with children or teens. The commission also urged better enforcement of the online world's rules regarding profanity in sites aimed at children, and training for community enforcers or moderators to enforce any rules.