FTC Gets Explicit About Virtual World Adult Content

ftc-logo.gifThe Federal Trade Commission released a study raising issues regarding adult content in virtual worlds that virtual world providers should consider when evaluating their privacy, content storage, access, and age verification policies. The FTC also highlights “best practices” for virtual world providers dealing with these important issues. The full report (.pdf) is available at the FTC’s website.

From the FTC’s report:

The FTC surveyed 27 online virtual worlds – including those specifically intended for young children, worlds that appealed to teens, and worlds intended only for adults. The FTC found at least one instance of either sexually or violently explicit content in 19 of the 27 worlds. The FTC observed a heavy amount of explicit content in five of the virtual worlds studied, a moderate amount in four worlds, and only a low amount in the remaining 10 worlds in which explicit content was found.

The FTC recommends that virtual world providers:

  • Use more effective age-screening mechanisms to prevent children from registering in adult virtual worlds;
  • Use or enhance age-segregation techniques to make sure that people interact only with others in their age group;
  • Re-examine language filters to ensure that they detect and eliminate messages that violate rules of behavior in virtual worlds;
  • Provide more guidance to community enforcers in virtual worlds so they are better able to review and rate virtual world content, report potential underage users, and report any users who appear to be violating rules of behavior; and
  • Employ a staff of specially trained moderators who are equipped to take swift action against rule violations.

Many of the issues highlighted by the FTC’s report could have been avoided by addressing these concerns, from both a technical and legal perspective, early in the design process.

Pillsbury’s Virtual Worlds and Video Games team has helped many clients address these issues when building their virtual worlds, and has developed additional “best practices” regarding deployment of virtual worlds. Some of our recommendations include:

  • Seeking specific parental permission for youth visitors;
  • Deploying parental permission systems in conjunction with youth accounts;
  • Assigning specific staff responsibility for monitoring compliance with emerging legal trends.

It is best to address these questions early in the development cycle, when a potentially expensive problem can be averted with minimal expense.

For further information, please contact our Virtual Worlds and Video Games team.