Friday, July 2, 2010

More stringent online protections for minors?

Online gaming doesn't just mean getting on the computer anymore.  When the term "online gaming" comes up, most would probably think about MMORPG's.  However, much more than the PC can now connect to the internet and allow players to communicate and compete with strangers.  For example, the main consoles such as the PS3 also connect to the internet.  And how about mobile games?  iPhone games?

A newly-released article about the FTC's concerns can be found here.

There is already an act in effect called the "Children's Online Privacy Protection Act" (COPPA) from 1998, but many children's advocacy groups think it's out of date.  I am inclined to agree with this, as so much has changed since then. 

To directly quote their report:
"Recent developments in technology and marketing practices require that the COPPA rules be updated and clarified. When Congress passed COPPA in 1998, computers provided the only means of accessing websites and online services. Today, adults and children have many other ways to access the Internet and online services including mobile phones, gaming consoles, and interactive television. In addition, marketers have developed very sophisticated methods of collecting data and are using that data to target individuals with personalized marketing messages. These developments have increased the risks to children's privacy."
(The full article can be found here.)

Some other groups are talking about fixing this problem through requiring children to enter credit card numbers just to verify their age, or even going as far as to issue.  They also want to redefine what constitutes a "children's" website, and re-define what's considered to be "personal information" (such as IP address, zip code, and gender).

The group acknowledges that there are already parental protection devices in place, but apparently they don't believe parents can keep up with the rapidly changing technology.  

I find myself siding more with the Progress and Freedom Foundation, however, who believe these regulations are unrealistic, especially if 17-year-olds are put under the same restrictions as 7 year olds!  (I played WoW when I was 17, and had the common sense to keep personal information to myself.  If anyone else of that age gives out such information, it's because they WANT to, and no "restriction" is going to keep them from divulging it directly through the game's chat circuits.  And forcing them not to give out that information would also be a violation of freedom of speech.)

So what does this mean for the business?  Will government regulation on "children's data" hamper the industry?  What concerns me is that many websites stay afloat by gathering data to customize advertising.  Because this information runs through automated systems (usually, anyway), then is the child's privacy truly compromised?  Provided that no 3rd party user has access to this information, I would hope that children wouldn't be "blocked from access".

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