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Topic Closed05NOV14 - COPPA and age restrictions explained

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GM Stormcrow View Drop Down
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Direct Link To This Post Topic: 05NOV14 - COPPA and age restrictions explained
    Posted: 05 Nov 2014 at 20:26
Hi everyone,

I'd like to take this opportunity to explain what COPPA is, and why it is the reason we do not (and cannot) permit people under the age of 13 to play Illyriad.

We don't actually have a choice, except to remove from the game any player who identifies themselves as being under the age of 13.  Whilst we are a UK company, the servers now reside in the USA, and are therefore subject to a law passed by the US Congress, called COPPA - the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.

We don't ask players for their age in game - in fact, we ask players for zero private information except an optional, non-verified email address they can be contacted at to retrieve a lost password.  This is precisely because we do not want to deliberately assume legal responsibilities for protecting personal data, and/or enforcing laws such as COPPA.

COPPA makes it abundantly clear precisely how we have to behave in *exactly* these circumstances, in http://www.business.ftc.gov/documents/0493-Complying-with-COPPA-Frequently-Asked-Questions under the sections entitled:


"(b)  What happens if a child posts in a forum and announces her age?

If no one in your organization is aware of the post, then you may not have the requisite actual knowledge under the Rule.  However, you may be considered to have actual knowledge where a child announces her age under certain circumstances, for example, if you monitor your posts, if a responsible member of your organization sees the post, or if someone alerts you to the post "

... (for forum you can also read "chatroom").  The legal responsibility falls on us to either seek parental consent from the child's parents (a procedure that we're not willing to do as it introduces an extreme burden of overhead on a very small team.  I'm not aware of any games company out there who does this.  Our only other option is to delete all the person's information (ie their username, account and data), and prohibit them from further accessing the website.

The law is very specific on this, and it doesn't matter whether you yourself are a US citizen or not.

Regarding the "but you would never have known had a particular player not volunteered the information themselves" argument.  This is indeed true, but is not a defence we are permitted to make. According to Section 12:


"I know the COPPA Rule is triggered by the collection of personal information from children, but the information I collect at my site or service is voluntary, not mandatory.  Does COPPA still apply?

Yes.  The Rule governs the online collection of personal information from children by a covered operator, even if children volunteer the information or are not required by the operator to input the information to participate on the website or service. "

So once someone volunteers the information that they are under the age of 13, we are held to "know" this, and must, legally, act on it by removing them from the game.

Regarding the faintly ridiculous "But I was only joking" argument... it might surprise you to know that the FTC actually has a section on the measures that website operators such as us should take if someone identifies themselves as under the age of 13 and then later tries to amend their age if, for example, they suddenly find themselves unable to use the website.  

The FTC website even has a section entitled "Am I responsible if children lie about their age during the registration process on my general audience website?"  to which the answer is "yes" - once we are aware that the person claims that they are under the age of 13: "operators will be held to have acquired actual knowledge of having collected personal information from a child where, for example, they later learn of a child’s age"

I am, of course, sad to see anyone leave the game - but I think many players are assuming that removing players from the game under the COPPA law is something we actually have a choice about, like it's a decision that we've made or that we're choosing to apply rules in a particularly Draconian way.  Whatever you or I may personally think about the law is moot... we don't have a choice.  It's not optional for us, when someone identifies themselves as being under the age of 13 - then that's it - and if they're lying/joking then that's too bad too.

If you don't like this law and you are a US citizen, then please do write to your congressman.  If you don't like this law and are not a US citizen, it may surprise or shock you to know that the FTC have applied it (far outside their jurisdiction, in my opinion) to actually say "The law’s definition of “operator” includes foreign-based websites and online services that are involved in commerce in the United States or its territories.".  So, basically any website in the world that can be accessed from the USA should technically comply with COPPA though I do wonder how the FTC intends to enforce this.  We, however, have to comply, as our gameservers are located in the USA. 

I hope that helps explain a little bit more about the legislation and why we don't have any choice in whether we apply it or not.

Regards,

SC

EDIT: added italics to some quoted sections


Edited by GM Rikoo - 21 Nov 2014 at 21:00
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05 Nov 2014 at 20:31
Feel free to ask questions, but off-topic questions or questions about particular players will be deleted. 

GM Rikoo


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Jane DarkMagic View Drop Down
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05 Nov 2014 at 20:45
Why did you wait to post this until after someone got banned for an innocent joke?  Seems like it would have been wiser to post it as soon as it became applicable.
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05 Nov 2014 at 20:53
Originally posted by Jane DarkMagic Jane DarkMagic wrote:

Why did you wait to post this until after someone got banned for an innocent joke?  Seems like it would have been wiser to post it as soon as it became applicable.

Hindsight is 20/20 I guess. But, we did have it posted in several locations for a very, very long time and had several discussions on this topic in-game and elsewhere. Sorry you missed those!

I will promise you that even as we post this, people will claim they never saw it. We can't go into people's brains directly. Yet.

Thanks,


GM Rikoo


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Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05 Nov 2014 at 20:54
Originally posted by Jane DarkMagic Jane DarkMagic wrote:

Why did you wait to post this until after someone got banned for an innocent joke?  Seems like it would have been wiser to post it as soon as it became applicable.

It was announced in Rikoo's Chat & Community rules update, it's in GM Rikoo's ingame profile, it's in the first post (of only three) in the Rules Of The Game section of the forum, and it's in the ingame patchnotes.

All of which were posted when they became active - back in May this year.

Regards,

SC
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05 Nov 2014 at 21:05
  1.  

2.    Who is covered by COPPA?

The Rule applies to operators of commercial websites and online services (including mobile apps) directed to children under 13 that collect, use, or disclose personal information from children.  It also applies to operators of general audience websites or online services with actual knowledge that they are collecting, using, or disclosing personal information from children under 13.  The Rule also applies to websites or online services that have actual knowledge that they are collecting personal information directly from users of another website or online service directed to children. 
 

3.    What is Personal Information?

The amended Rule defines personal information to include:

  • First and last name;
  • A home or other physical address including street name and name of a city or town;
  • Online contact information;
  • A screen or user name that functions as online contact information;
  • A telephone number;
  • A social security number;
  • A persistent identifier that can be used to recognize a user over time and across different websites or online services;
  • A photograph, video, or audio file, where such file contains a child’s image or voice;
  • Geolocation information sufficient to identify street name and name of a city or town; or
  • Information concerning the child or the parents of that child that the operator collects online from the child and combines with an identifier described above.
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05 Nov 2014 at 21:12
The devs are completely ignoring the obvious...the issue was not the law or the ToS or anything else...the issue is and always has been the heavy-handed and often selective enforcement of the rules.

Prime Example...After Moka was banned, a certain player stated twice in GC that he was 12 and he was NOT banned. I've had several igms from him, and he's choosing to stay out of GC, but his account is still active.

The real question here is...why are some players banned and others not? Is there a set of "rules" to cover that glaring inconsistency? I completely understand the Devs' compliance with the statutes, but to hide behind paragraph after paragraph of legal jargon does NOT change the lack of consistency in enforcement that has angered so many players.


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Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05 Nov 2014 at 21:15

"1.    Am I responsible if children lie about their age during the registration process on my general audience website?

The Rule does not require operators of general audience sites to investigate the ages of visitors to their sites or services.  See 1999 Statement of Basis and Purpose, 64 Fed. Reg. 59888, 59892.  However, operators will be held to have acquired actual knowledge of having collected personal information from a child where, for example, they later learn of a child’s age or grade from a concerned parent who has learned that his child is participating on the site or service. "


This section who's header only is quoted by Stormcrow clearly applies to persons who lie about their age when registering.  Specifically it is about a 12, or younger, person claiming to be older when joining and then letting it slip to the site operator that they are younger.  In that case the operator is supposed to take action.  It is not about, and does not say it is about, a person who jokes, or lies, about being younger.

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Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05 Nov 2014 at 21:19

"(b)  What happens if a child posts in a forum and announces her age?

If no one in your organization is aware of the post, then you may not have the requisite actual knowledge under the Rule.  However, you may be considered to have actual knowledge where a child announces her age under certain circumstances, for example, if you monitor your posts, if a responsible member of your organization sees the post, or if someone alerts you to the post ""

Moka is not a child.  This section is about children, not persons claiming an age.  Now the owners of the site are certainly allowed to take her at her word rather than investigate the chat.  If this is happening frequently then a time management calculation may make that a rational choice.  How many times has this happened?
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05 Nov 2014 at 21:34
Originally posted by SimplyDivine SimplyDivine wrote:

Prime Example...After Moka was banned, a certain player stated twice in GC that he was 12 and he was NOT banned. I've had several igms from him, and he's choosing to stay out of GC, but his account is still active.
So wait... now we're not banning enough people?!

I'm not personally aware of other people in GC claiming to be 12, but I can assure you that feeding the manufactured outrage of a few players apparently desperate for an "I am Spartacus" martyrdom to give everyone another stick to beat Rikoo with for being heavy-handed was certainly not on my agenda for the week, sorry to say.

We always consider context, and we have to run with what we believe to be the case based on our knowledge, but we're not infallible.

Originally posted by Lagavulin Lagavulin wrote:

Specifically it is about a 12, or younger, person claiming to be older when joining and then letting it slip to the site operator that they are younger.  In that case the operator is supposed to take action.
Which is exactly what happened in this case.  I'm not sure what your point is here?  Maybe I didn't explain my original point very well, for which apologies.

Originally posted by Lagavulin Lagavulin wrote:

This section is about children, not persons claiming an age.  
... is a quite extraordinary statement that I don't really know how to process, as I'm not, sadly, omniscient Tongue

Regards,

SC


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