Texas Attorney General Targets Games Radar Website

December 6, 2007 -
Games Radar has a bit of a legal problem this morning.

As reported by Kotaku, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott (R, left) has sued the popular, California-based website in Federal District Court. Abbott alleges that Games Radar is violating the 1998 Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

Also targeted: The Doll Palace. A press release on Abbott's website says: 
...Greg Abbott today took legal action against two Web sites that cater to children but fail to adequately protect their privacy and safety. Texas is the first state to file an enforcement action under [COPPA]...

[the sites] unlawfully collect personal information... from children. Investigators also discovered that the sites’ parental consent features were easily manipulated and circumvented. The lack of reasonable controls readily allow children to access the sites’ various features, including interactive chat rooms and forums, without their parents’ knowledge.

Abbott added: 
These defendants are charged with operating child-oriented Web sites that violate the law by failing to protect young users... [my office] will continue aggressively enforcing laws to protect young Internet users... 

Watch the video of Abbott's news conference here. Abbott's complaint against Games Radar is here.

GP: The outcome of this legal action will probably cause other game content sites to review their situation vis-a-vis COPPA. Among Abbott's charges against Games Radar is an allegation that the site caters to younger readers via reviews and discussion forums on kid-oriented titles like Pokemon, but also allows them to access reviews and features on more mature-themed games.

UPDATE: Future US, which owns Games Radar, has responded to the Texas suit.

Comments

The same thing can be said about nearly any game site, though. For that matter, imdb.

Maannnnn, I don't want to have to put my credit card number in every time I wanna read a review for HL2 or somethin'. These people are making me sad.

Are you freaking kidding me? So are they actually making the claim that it's against the law for children to access gaming sites because they can read about mature rated games? Well what about IMDb.com or other movie sites where you can read the reviews and participate in message boards for R-rated or NC17-rated movies?

This is so ridiculous! Stop trying to raise our children, and worry about things that actually matter in this country.

Yeah, it's complete and utter crap, just another example of an elected official trying to appear useful to his constituents.

Just goes to show, though, that there are a large number of people for whom "gamer" equates primarily to "child."

@Bill

I whole heartenly agree.

Bill,
That may be a VERY important point. The FTC accepts credit cards as age verification tools, as pointed out many times. In fact, it's one of the most reliable ways to prove age online.

However, while he circumvented the "protect the children" with an alternate phrase, he may actually be encouraging identity theft. Either pushing sites to be pay-only sites, therefore requiring credit cards, or forcing sites to demand credit card information even for free sites, he may be opening up the door to unscrupulous individuals. Sound hard to believe? Imagine that it becomes a NORMAL practice to sign up for a free site by entering your credit card information. How, then, do you tell which sites are trustworthy and which aren't?

Right now, people are wary of giving out that information. Some take the risk, but others, knowing that most sites don't require it, have other resources to turn to for information.
But if MOST, if not ALL, sites required to use such information as credit cards as verification, then there would be fewer options. Either risk your personal information or not be given access to information you may need/want.

It is possible, then , those sites that want to be free but don't want to endanger the personal information of customers may not create sites that would be of use to people. In a sense, that would be a violation of their Freedom of Speech. Tough case to prove, but when you hear "To protect the children, you must risk endangering the identity of adults or not be heard".

Nightwng2000
NW2K Software
Nightwng2000 NW2K Software http://www.facebook.com/nightwing2000 Nightwng2000 is now admin to the group "Parents For Education, Not Legislation" on MySpace as http://groups.myspace.com/pfenl

Whatever happened to simply watching over your child's shoulder without their knowledge?

I don't like this. In principle of course. I understand the need to protect children from predators and such, but here he seems to be more concerned about protecting children from Mature rated games. That is an odd position to be in.

Yet again, he is tying it to the predator thing by including that children have access to forums and chat rooms.

I do wonder what kind of validation would appease this guy.

@ JC

Or just reviewing the browser log.

@ Sidewinder

About that... its pretty easy for a kid with a lil' knowhow to clear the history on the computer. Not that id know anything about doing that... hehe... ehem.

Anywho, he had a good point initially but turned it down a sour path. Yes, it is bad to have a sight that is kid oriented to have easy access to chat rooms and the like, but then again ive watched my brothers and cousins at ages 9-15 talking on AOL IM, which is essentially a chat room; so all in all, this is a pretty complicated situation that mister Abbott needs to be more clear and specific on. Weird thing is, hes worried about reviews for an M rated game when its just as easy to see reviews for NC17 movies or worse yet, pure porn. Besides, what can a REVIEW do to a kid? not like its interactive demos.

So exactly what makes it a child oriented website? Because it's about video games? Pah, I'm sick of that idiotic line of thinking. One of the trailers on the website is of GTA4, a decidedly adult game. But rather than accept it at an adult game its "Oh my god, this child's game is inappropriate for children!"

Anywho, he had a good point initially but turned it down a sour path. Yes, it is bad to have a sight that is kid oriented to have easy access to chat rooms and the like, but then again ive watched my brothers and cousins at ages 9-15 talking on AOL IM

There is no good point. When you let a child on the internet, the odds of them finding porn increases exponentially when you let them wander. Simple google searches of simple words can lead to horrible things.

Just another "video games = childs toys" type of person....

How exactly is games radar a children's website? When I think children's website, I think the disney channel website.
The thing about the internet is that ANYONE can get on if they want to. Trying to block a not-really childrens website is useless, because the information is still out there in other places.

@Acebuckeye13

so, if they win this, they can go on to do the same forr every games review site, that has the ability for people to sign up.

So it's now bad for a minor to read a REVIEW of a game rated M? I wish that we, as a country, were as concerned with keeping minors hush to the fact that the "Saw" series exists...

I'm not sure if I get the idea behind this. Does this aim to create an environment where players under the age of 17 simply do not know that M-rated games are published?

@Daniel

So it’s now bad for a minor to read a REVIEW of a game rated M?

Unfortunately, yes. COPPA not only sets down restrictions on what you can do with information collected, but also demands strict limits on advertising to children.
-- If your wiimote goes snicker-snack, check your wrist-strap...

I thought one of those "COPPA" laws were overturned due to restrictions on free speech...maybe I am mistaken...

This to me reeks of political bandstanding. Namely because a lower teir enthusist site is named as the defendent and not a higher profile site such as IGN, Gamespot, 1Up, etc that is more immediately recognizeable. If the prosecutor had the balls to attack a high profile site then I would be less suspicious. Right now it seems that he wants to do little more than bull rush a smaller site w/o the resources to defend itself. Then, using this small victory as a springboard for precendent launch himself at higher profile sites.

I find the language about the "easily manipulated" parental controls disturbing as well since it is a nebulous comment. Borrowing your parents credit card information is argueable as easy as bypassing parental controls.

The only part of this that I could potentially see as a positive is the language about "unlawful collection of personal information". The positive is that this sort of attitude could help enforce a sites Privacy Policy, etc.

Oh, I'm thinking of COPA that was a violation of free speech rights. A little different scope than COPPA, even though the acronyms are almost identical.

I don't know about the whole "collection of information" part. I do know that the "inadequate age identification" is actually not required, as there is no successful law on the books about the content of videogames and excerpts of those games. So the age thing is a complete waste of Texas state funds and seems like an attempt to bleed Games Radar. The Attorney General, of all people, is required to know this information and is either negligent in his duties or abusing his official powers.

You know, if I didn't know any better, I'd swear Dennis was making some of this shit up.

Seriously, the people who run the government sometimes make me think that I should invest in a bomb shelter, you know, just in case. I'm starting to think twice about this whole 'democracy' thing =/

"This site is further more provided as a "General Audience" site intended for ages 13 and up."

http://www.gamesradar.com/us/us_terms.jsp

Now, this could have been added after the lawsuit was served. This should be stronger in language. It should say:
"By registering with Game Radar, you agree that you are age 13 and up as required by US COPPA Law. If a use is found to be under the age of 13, their account shall be suspended and all personal information collected shall be erased."

I'm glad I left Texas. If I still lived there I would be ashamed to be associated with that moron.

A lot of sites have the "How old are you?" type of thing before entering, while it is easy to lie and claim you were born in 1920 or whatever, would simply adding that to "M" rated sections get this guy to shut his pie hole?

To the blue islands in the crazy sea of red that is Texas... I feel your pain.

@Thomas P.

First off sorry for a double post, second, no that bit is on all boards I ever sign up for. Pretty sure it is included in the source code for them. All seem to ask that you are at least 13, or at least have parent permission. Or just lie.

The fact that the site includes reviews for mature-themed games suggests the website is aimed at a general audience, rather than at children. COPPA does not apply to websites aimed at a general audience unless they *knowingly* collect information from children under the age of 13.

By complaining about the website allowing children to "access reviews and features on more mature-themed games", the Attorney General is esentially arguing against his own case.

COPPA is a stupid law anyway.

What part about this lawsuit do you all not understand? It's not about gaming; it's not about mature games; it's not about "The Man" hammering the gaming community. The lawsuit against gamesradar.com is about the unlawful collection of information from children under the age of 13. The site allows those under the age of 13 to sign up while collecting personally identifying information. Gamespot and other major game site do not do that. Gamespot, for example, clearly states that you have to be 13 to even have an account. If you try signing up with a birthdate under 13, you can't be a member. You can lie about your age, but the site does not go as far as gamesradar does in permitting those under 13 to sign up. Did you all even read the suit?

cry me a F'ing river then build me a F'ing bridge and GET THE FUCK OVER IT

I'll agree about the collecting information, I don't agree with the 'can access reviews of Mature games'. I could read the review of Disneys latest production in the same magazine the I could read a review of Hostel, I don't hear people complaining about that.

Just checked the Wayback Machine. Looks like they've been a 13+ site on their terms and conditions and on their sign-up page for over a year. Not sure why this is an issue.

?Three cheers for your Texas education!?
?Three cheers for your frivolous law suits!?
?Three cheers for three years that you wasted at law school!?

*I sorry if I offended anyone that has a Texas education and a brain.

Regarding this issue, first of all, referring to gamesrador as a "child-oriented" website is kind of foolish, I think. Just based on the demographic of gamers now, I'd guess most game websites are aimed more for a general audience.

Ignoring that for the moment, the guy MIGHT actually have a point depending on just exactly how the signups for gamesrador worked. I tried to test it now, but they've disabled signups for the moment.

Basically, from what I understand, COPPA makes it illegal for a site to knowingly collect personal information from someone under 13, at least without parental consent. Given that just about any site that allows you to register for a forum asks for things like your name, this can present an issue.

Regarding how some sites get around it, at Gamespot, where I am a mod, we just don't allow anyone under 13 to register. We permanently ban anyone who admits to being under 13 after registering, so the only way they can use our forums is to both lie about their age and hide the fact afterwards. Hence, no knowing collection of personnal info on Gamespot's part. And it's hard for a predator to try and use the boards to contact those under 13 because the moment anyone reveals that they are that young, we ban them. (So if by chance you or someone you know was banned at Gamespot for being underage and you were unhappy about it, now you know why we have to do so.)

For Gamepolitics' forums, I started to register just now and lied about my age and said I was under 13. It then brought me to some page that mentioned having to fax or mail a parental consent form before the registration could be completed. I stopped there, of course.

From the way thedollpalace was described, (that's the other place being sued, and it's a place that generally is child-orientated) it sounded like it at least wasn't following COPPA regulations very well. Not so sure about gamesrador, though, cause the guy didn't mention any specific examples for it.

Sooo...what now? They're in illegal practice, because while oriented towards games of younger audience (supposedly), there's discussion of more mature topics (in this games, games), and this is somehow illegal?

Ok, I just read part of the PDF about gamesrador, and found out more info about the complaints.

Supposedly, gamesrador has you choose your birthdate from a dropdown menu when registering, but doesn't let you choose any date after 1994. Also, even if you choose a date in 1994 that would put you slightly under the age of 13, you can still register without having to go through even a token parental consent system.

Basically, the entire age system is pointless, and it asking you for your birthday does nothing.

If this is all true (can't test for myself, cause the registration system is now disabled, as I mentioned before), then I have to agree with Abbott that gamesrador isn't really complying with COPPA. I just wish he didn't include some misconceptions and stuff in his releases.

@Thomas P

The problem here is people aren't fully reading the AG's complaints, and are just hearing him call gamesrador "child-orientated" and not seeing anything else.

Whether gamesrador is child-orientated or not is not really an issue, the fact is COPPA doesn't allow sites to knowingly collect information on those under the age of 13 without a verification of parental consent. And gamesrador apparently does, with a registration process that asks you for your age but does nothing even if you say you are under 13 (which is hard to do because of the registration only letting you pick 1994 as a birthdate.)
Hence, gamesrador hardly does even a token effort to comply with COPPA.

He, Funny thing is I don't see him going after sites like Myspace or Yahoo. neither of which have any parental consent or age verification restrictions.

Kids are able to get into the "adults only" chat rooms when they are younger just by making a new yahoo name with age nirthday set to make them older then 18.

If the kid has to lie about his age to get in then they have no case. It's that simple.

@Father Time

In the case of gamersrador, in some cases, they don't. That's why I'm not defending them that much. Though the site says it's not for those under 13, those between 12 and 13 that fall into a particular range can join with no problem, it seems.

EDIT- gah, gamesradar, not gamesrador.

One of the initial problems with COPPA is that it does encourage kids to lie. However, there's no other way to get around this. There could be a screen to where it asks if you are under 13, but again, all a kid has to do is click "no." Or, they can enter their age, but again, enter something older than what they really are.

COPPA removes the ability to do stuff I used to do as a kid, i.e. fantasy sports, message boards on kid's shows, etc.

COPPA is just bad law. The original rationale wasn't even to rotect from child predators, but rather to protect kids from marketers who would send targeted ads to them. What's the harm in them getting emails telling them to buy more Spongebob crap? Or maybe politicians were concerned that they would get ads for M-rated games?

A better approach would be to overturn COPPA and instead create a law that would create limits on who the information can be passed on to. I won't worry much about pedophiles anyway, as I will insist my kids take some sort of martial art so they can defend themselves if they are in that kind of situation.

"parental consent features were easily manipulated and circumvented. The lack of reasonable controls readily allow children to access the sites’ various features, including interactive chat rooms and forums, without their parents’ knowledge."

Umm...almost any site can easily be manipulated...the only site i think that kind of comes close is Youtubes age verification for "semi-NSFW" videos.

They could just not collect personal information at all and be done with it. But that would be too easy and advertisers don't like that...

Mr. Blond
blocking content to them would probably break their rights, the US is funny like that.
then again it would just force unnecessary things to view normal "mature" content.

A age gate is stupid and cumbersome a more simple are you 14+ would be better.

Of coarse they could tie in the age gate to statistical data of some kind and sell it 0_o...

I never put in my age any more just random numbers.

COPPA because parents should never ever be responsible for anything their children do... it's much cheaper than education and simpler for politicians to appear like they are doing something other than grabbing power.
 
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