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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

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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