Ex-COPA Commissioner: Parents > Age Gates

In response to Microsoft’s recent Xbox Live dashboard update, which added the ability for parents to limit non-game content such as downloaded movies and television shows on a per-user basis, CNN took a look at the current state of other measures designed to keep kids from viewing content that perhaps they shouldn’t be.

The article focuses mainly on “age gates,” or content that is hidden behind a screen in which users must input their birth date. Obviously such obstacles are easily overcome by any mouse-wielder, regardless of age.

Sony’s PlayStation 3, the author writes, “doesn’t appear to let owners lock content downloaded from Sony’s digital store or those manually loaded onto the console,” like its Microsoft brethren now does. In reply, Sony’s Vice President of Marketing Peter Dille said that “We’re all doing something similar,” adding that Sony complies with the Child Online Protection Act (COPA).

James Schmidt, a retired professor and former member of the now-disbanded COPA Commission, answered Dille’s claim, saying, “To say they [Sony] are complying with COPA is a nonsensical statement.” Schmidt said that the Commission determined that there was no “technological means” to protect kids online and that age verification schemes were “were so patently transparent that they were of no use.”

The ESRB asks participating videogame-related websites to install a browser tracking device that would not allow a user to access a website upon failing to meet an age gate’s standard.

GameTrailers.com, however, has declined to implement such a device, because, according to the site’s Shane Satterfield, that barrier was “a little more extreme than we had wanted…”

For her part, ESRB Chief Patricia Vance added, “We can’t prevent kids from lying about their age. The important part is that we aren’t inappropriately marketing these games to children.”

Schmidt outlined what the COPA Commission eventually surmised about the situation, “We believed first and foremost that the responsibility for monitoring access to content on the internet lies with parents and legal guardians.”

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