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Sony, Microsoft remove sex offenders from online games, ACLU questions effectiveness
Sony, Microsoft remove sex offenders from online games, ACLU questions effectiveness
April 5, 2012 | By Eric Caoili

April 5, 2012 | By Eric Caoili
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A number of major publishers have purged 3,580 accounts of New York registered sex offenders from their online platforms and games as part of a new "Operation: Game Over" initiative with the state.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said this move was a first-of-its-kind effort to protect children from predators in online games, and involved the participation of Microsoft, Apple, Sony, Warner Bros, Electronic Arts, Blizzard Entertainment, and Disney Interactive Media Group.

"We must ensure online video game systems do not become a digital playground for dangerous predators," said Attorney General Schneiderman. "That means doing everything possible to block sex offenders from using gaming networks as a vehicle to prey on underage victims."

The New York Civil Liberties Union, however, doubts the effectiveness of this initiative. "While the intent here is admirable, schemes like this one do very little to keep children safe and trample on the right to free speech and expression," communications director Jennifer Carnig told Gamasutra.

"And the problem this initiative is trying to solve is almost non-existent. Children are almost always abused by people they know – a friend or family member – not by people they interact with while playing video games online."

In New York, convicted sex offenders must register their email addresses, screen names, and other online identifiers so that certain websites can purge potential predators from their service.

Using information from that database, Schneiderman approached gaming companies to remove New York's registered sex offenders from their online services. He said this initiative is the first time this law has been applied to online games.

"At Microsoft, we continually evaluate ways to manage safety for our 40 million Xbox Live members and particularly for children on our service," said Microsoft's VP and deputy general counsel Rich Wallis. "Our partnership with the Office of the New York Attorney General helps further this cause."


[Update: Gamasutra spoke with the New York Attorney General's office, and a spokesperson explained that while these purges are the first to affect video games, the state has been taking similar action on social networks for quite some time.

"There have been purges in the past for other social networking sites, and one thing that had been left out was online gaming networks, particularly those that have chat functions where people can communicate in a way not dissimilar to Facebook or MySpace," the spokesperson said.

"The office approached the companies and brought this to their attention, and they voluntarily agreed to purge those accounts. It was about making sure that the same sort of purge applies to online video games as they did on the social media networks."

The Attorney General's office is currently in talks with other major game companies like Nintendo, and for the foreseeable future, it plans to continue its efforts to purge sex offenders from online game networks.

"The process is still ongoing, so we've been in touch with [Nintendo] and other companies as well. These major companies are just the first to voluntarily agree," the office said.]


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Comments


E Zachary Knight
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Yay! More ostracizing and persecution of people who are the majority of times just trying to rebuild and get on with their lives. Isn't it great that we are effectively giving people life sentences for oftentimes crimes that have nothing to do with children or rape. Crimes such as peeing in public, mooning someone, one teen having sex with another teen etc. All these horrible people should just be shipped off to Australia or something so we don't have to look at them any more right? Right!?

What ever happened to forgiveness and real justice? Now these people can't wind down after a hard day's work at trying to avoid schools and parks on their way to work at the only crap job they can get that will actually employ a registered sex offender. Never mind the stress of wondering if tomorrow the place you are living could possibly be swooped up in yet another expansion of restricted living areas.

k s
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If those minor behaviors are enough to get on a sex offenders list then there is a serious issue with what counts as a sex offender. When I think sex offender I think rapists and pedophiles not some teen who had sex with another teen or someone who was caught pissing in public, mooning someone else, etc.

Out of curiosity Zachary are your from the states or canada, cause quite honestly I'm not to well versed in the details of the canadian sex offender laws/registry.

Ali Afshari
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@k s: In this same way, we also have a mental image of inmates being violent rapists and murderers, but there is a disproportionate amount of non-violent offenders in prison.

E Zachary Knight
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k s,

I am from the US. Oklahoma in fact. We have our own problems with Sex Offender registries. Recently we had a problem in which a land own was helping set up a place where Sex offenders could rent trailers on his own property so that they could have a stable home. Know what happened? The state started going after him for trying to help out people trying to rebuild their lives. They are trying to make it illegal to develop housing in such a fashion.

Ken Kinnison
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Yeah I was kinda worried about the same thing. I was worried I'd come across as a nut job saying it. I can understand limiting violent rapists and pedo's... I checked the online database and the two closest to me don't seem to fit that description. This became an issue a few years ago when they started getting overbearing on a bus stop distance law and applied it to a woman who was 19 and had sex with a 17 year old. I somehow don't think this woman was much of a threat to my kids.

I will point out though that many states have romeo and juliet laws preventing statutory rape from being applied to people that are both kids, or fairly close in age, but I don't know how widespread these are.

[User Banned]
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Matt Robb
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Out of curiosity, even if they limited the scope to to 'violent sex offenders', do they do things like refund the people's purchases and such?

E Zachary Knight
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No. They don't even help registered sex offenders find suitable housing and employment. They give them a bunch of often vague restrictions and say "Have at it." The government also has the power to change whatever restrictions they want without notifying the offenders which can result in sex offenders being evicted from homes that were legal to live in the previous day.

The sex offender registry is not about justice or protecting children. It is about persecution of a class of people.

A S
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While I don't doubt there are people on the registry who shouldn't be on there, even a brief bit of research indicates the majority of people are on there for very serious crimes. We are talking rape, sexual abuse of minors, aggravated sexual assault here. If it doesn't already exist, we must definitely have a process of getting people off the list who shouldn't be on it, but categorizing it as full of people who simply mooned someone or urinated in the street is inaccurate. As for moving on, I'm sorry but I truly feel there are some errors in judgement that stay with you all your life. You are out of the federal corrective regime, but that does not mean society has any obligations to forgive you.

Anyhow, I agree with the ACLU, this is probably a wholly ineffective action that is more motivated by politics than by any attempt to really protect children.

E Zachary Knight
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A S,

I recommend that you read this Reason article on just how wrong the sex offender registry is:

http://reason.com/archives/2011/06/14/perverted-justice/singlepag
e

Gregory Kinneman
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I am very, very disappointed. Being a registered sex offender doesn't mean you're stalking people online. I would rather see these companies monitor the communications and behavior between users (searching for keywords or something similar) rather than just banning a large group of people who have done nothing wrong. I fail to see how this protects anyone.

Andrew Wallace
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So all they have to do is make a new profile and, you know, not say they're a sex offender? Sounds like incredibly effective legislation.

Evan Combs
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Unless you have a credit card with a fake name that isn't going to fix anything.

Amanda Lee Matthews
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Evan: Or they could just buy prepaid cards, which require no name. So far, out of good faith (and maybe fear of violating parole), they have been reporting their Xbox Live & PSN names, which could have been helpful. With this, I bet a lot of them make new profiles and stop doing that.

Kenneth Blaney
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It hasn't be mentioned yet, but there is another huge problem here. That is that there is an implicit assumption that everyone who is on these networks is a child and a pedophile getting onto these networks is akin to a pedophile sitting on the bench near a playground.

This is an extension of the "video games are toys for children" issue that we are currently fighting.

Ken Kinnison
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That may not be quite accurate, while politicians and soccer mom's often have that viewpoint. Remove that viewpoint, and you still have the fact that Live and PSN have a seriously huge kid population. It may not be a bench near a playground, but more like a mall- one where the parents don't hold their kids hands quite often.

Kenneth Blaney
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I'm not arguing that there are no kids there at all, I am simply suggesting that this move is based on the assumption that video games services contain mostly kids.

Not a point I brought up, but I wholeheartedly agree that parents should figurative hold their childrens' hands while playing video games more often.

Ian Uniacke
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I will paraphrase a friend of mine, "Leaving your child alone on the internet is akin to leaving them at home with a gun and alcohol while you go to a prostitutes.". Parents should take responsibility for what they're children are doing.

Amanda Lee Matthews
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"We must ensure online video game systems do not become a digital playground for dangerous predators," So what, you want them at physical playgrounds instead? Parents should be the ones "protecting" children from online predators. People on the sex offender registry are people too.

Jonathan Murphy
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There's a lady who took a picture of her baby taking a bath in the sink. Someone saw that picture, she was labeled as a sex offender. They pick on what they think is the easiest minority. That happens today. Tomorrow they expand the list.

The fact remains. Show me any system that determines a person is guilty of a crime with 100% accuracy? We make games, WE DO NOT POLICE THE WORLD!

Wylie Garvin
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Now someone who gets drunk and pisses in an alley can get arrested for "indecent exposure" and lose their Xbox Live account as a result. Brilliant.

Extra-judicial punishments like this should have no place in a civilized society. Either offenders are dangerous enough that we should keep them in jail, or they AREN'T dangerous enough and we should let them get on with their lives.

[User Banned]
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Terry Matthes
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I think suspending the accounts of youth who've committed violent crimes is an even better idea. We could restrict their accounts from playing 18+ games as they have proven they can't handle the adult nature of these titles.

As I think about it more, I'm wondering why it has to be restricted to youth. Why not ban anyone who has ever committed a violent crime from playing mature games?

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Terry Matthes
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I can see it being easier for Microsoft or Sony to make that decision voluntarily, rather than the government try to get the law changed so they have to.

It sounds like both companies are playing nice with the government. I don't see anything wrong with this.

Jack Kerras
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...cannot tell if serious.

God, I hope you are trolling.

Jack Kerras
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Oh, no! The children, the children!

You know what? Kids are a minority as far as gamers are concerned. Kicking sex offenders (many of which have never done anything to hurt kids) off of online games is some George Orwell shit.

Kids have this thing called parents. Parents have a responsibility to protect their children, -especially- when they are in a situation wherein they could be connected to an online service that has bad people on it. I daresay that there are -way more bad people- out there than the sex offender registry can possibly handle, and that making this a legislative position (or knuckling under to the government regarding this issue on the game company's part) is way, way, way the fuck out of whack.

I don't want to start talking about slippery slopes, but I will. I have no clue if Terry Matthes is serious or not, but that comment re: banning all violent offenders from video games with violent content is fucking -terrifying-.

No.

No no no no no.

This isn't protecting kids. It's being even more punitive to folks who, very frankly, are the single most ostracized group of people in America -right out of the gate-. Yes, they did a wrong thing. Yes, it's possible they did a wrong thing years ago, have had perfect behavior since, and are affected by that shitty decision every single day of their lives. It's possible they will be for the -rest- of their lives.

And these guys would rather have them -not- sitting on their couches, playing video games, -not molesting anyone-.

Jeremie Sinic
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This makes me want to boycott the next generation of consoles...


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