December 11, 2009

Kids Can Enter Internet Worlds Containing Adult Content

Kids with even the slightest bit of computer know-how can obtain access to violent or sexual content in some virtual or Internet worlds, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) said on Thursday.

The FTC did a survey of the virtual world sites, where users are able to invent computerized representations of themselves as avatars and interact with other users' avatars. The report, which was requested by Congress, found that seven of the worlds with the most explicit sex and violence only required that the user be at least 13 and an eighth set a minimum age of 18.

Those under the age of 13 trying to register were rejected at five of those 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 declined to respond to attempts to get a comment, but CEO of There.com Michael Wilson told Reuters, "We recognize that that's a problem and we're trying to deal with it."

"The amount of violent content and sexual content that they'll find in There is minimal."

Red Light Center displays nudity on its homepage and though it sets a minimum age of 18, it was also allowing users who were rejected for being underage to try again immediately with a different birthdate.

"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 from Reuters seeking comment either.

As part of the report, the commission suggested that virtual world operators come up with better mechanisms to block children from entering the sites and make sure that the adults in these worlds have no contact with children or teens.

The commission also called for greater enforcement of the online world's rules in terms of profanity in sites geared toward children, and training for community enforcers or moderators to enforce any rules.


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