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Friction grows over age-estimating software and policies for gaming

Friction grows over age-estimating software and policies for gaming

Facial age estimation for video gaming has become an unlikely point of contention for industry and advocacy groups.

Generally, the estimating software does nothing else. No facial recognition or data storage, for example, tasks that can raise the hackles of privacy advocates.

And yet there is some heat this week surrounding age estimation.

The Entertainment Software Ratings Board is hotly contesting media reports – reports it says are completely erroneous — that the organization plans to use facial recognition algorithms on minors to protect them from inappropriate content and features.

(While Biometrics Update’s coverage was accurate, it should have been clearer in describing how an estimation policy would work in this context. A parent would have to step in and have their age estimated before subjectively inappropriate content or game action would be displayed.)

The matter came up when the rating board and vendors SuperAwesome and Yoti asked the U.S. Federal Trade Commission for permission to use privacy-protective facial age estimation tools in segregating relevant material online, particularly games and game play.

The software is not covered by governing Children’s Online Privacy Protection regulations, prompting the trio’s request.

Then came news about another aspect of age-related online gaming that may be unknown to many people, loot boxes.

Ukie, a United Kingdom trade association for domestic interactive entertainment companies, has publicized 11 principles for loot boxes to guard the privacy of people on either side of adulthood online.

The features are caches that, typically, hold surprise rewards for players encounter in a game. Often, players pay real or game money to own the box, one of many purchase transactions that guardians of children want to make off limits.

Ukie’s principles, which address both underage game interactions and game addiction, say vendors should give parents of players the software to prevent children from buying a loot box without their “consent or knowledge.” Presumably, age estimation would be one such feature.

They should create a three-year, £1 million (US$1.3 million) public-awareness campaign, starting before August, about the availability of age-discriminate tools.

And the industry should assemble a knowledgeable panel that meets regularly to create and share best practices on age assurance.

Yoti, not unexpectedly, supports Ukie’s principles. It has published its critique of how age estimation should work, which favors its products.

There is opposition to gating sections of the internet to protect children, however.

Online-rights advocate the Electronic Frontier Foundation says industry moves and coming legislation are leading to “censorship and privacy invasions,” force parents to surveil their charges and unnecessarily create huge areas beyond which children can travel online due to overly broad content filtering.

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