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That may sound like a simple thing to do, but it’s increasingly complicated in a world of regulations that govern privacy and other protections for children in an age when everybody is online. It means the companies will make it easy for developers to embed a system in their games where parents can approve a child’s participation in an online space, such as the metaverse, the universe of virtual worlds that are all interconnected, like in novels such as Snow Crash and Ready Player One.
Dylan Collins, CEO of SuperAwesome, which is owned by Epic, said in an interview with GamesBeat the effort will make it easier for game developers to comply with the laws and regulations that make the internet safer for kids.
“It also makes it much much easier for parents. Because once a parent is verified, in one of the games that are using our service, when they come into the next game that’s using it, they don’t need to re-verify again,” Collins said. “If your kid has been playing in Fortnite, and you originally verified the parent, and they come to you and say they want to turn on the services in Among Us, which is also powered by Kids Web Services, you don’t need to go through those same steps as a parent.”
He said the upcoming metaverse will be a place where people of varying ages will meet, play games and take part in events just like they do in the physical world, so it’s important that developers have tools to ensure they are able to deliver audience-appropriate experiences that are
compliant with relevant privacy laws.
“All of these experiences are all blending together as we head towards the metaverse,” Collins said.
For hundreds of thousands of developers around the world, it remains prohibitively expensive to do the right and compliant thing for young audiences – especially when it comes to verifying the identity of parents and guardians.
“It shouldn’t cost developers any money to do the right thing for young audiences,” Collins said. “Every developer has a different version of this. Every parent has to go through the same verification steps and consent.”
Kids Web Services
SuperAwesome is making Kids Web Services (KWS) parent verification free for all developers globally via Epic Online Services. KWS enables developers to verify the identity of parents or guardians when granting their children permission to use features that collect personal information.
KWS already powers parent verification for some of the biggest games in the world and Epic also recently implemented KWS parent verification into the Epic Games account creation process.
“The metaverse will be made up of many types of experiences and will not be controlled by any one company,” said Tim Sweeney, CEO of Epic Games, in a statement. “This will require all of us who are building toward this future to create experiences that are not only interoperable but also take the safety of our audiences into account, no matter their age. By making KWS parent verification free we hope to enable more developers to create safer digital experiences, while empowering parents to make the choices that are right for their families.”
Making KWS parent verification free will also provide a better user experience for both parents and players, Collins said. Once a parent is verified using KWS and part of SuperAwesome’s network of verified parents/guardians called the “ParentGraph”, they never need to provide their verification details again for any other service that uses KWS technology.
This also minimizes personal data processing, since the parent or guardian is only providing their verification details once and SuperAwesome just retains the data necessary to enable the ParentGraph.
Companies have to comply with child safety laws like COPPA in the U.S., the Children’s Code in the United Kingdom and GDPR-K in Europe.
Collins said we’re seeing tension in the industry today. People have an allergic reaction when we talk about kids and technology, but kids are coming online more often and earlier because of the pandemic. But the tech they’re using wasn’t created for them. Many developers don’t have the finances or tech chops to address it on their own.
“This was one of the first things we started to huddle on together after the acquisition closed,” Collins said. “We joined the Epic family to scale our mission of making the internet safer for kids, but at a level that we just wouldn’t be able to do on our own. We thought how if we could snap our fingers and make that huge problem go away or become much easier.”
Roblox also recently initiated age verification for users who want to prove they are 13 or older to be able to use Roblox’s new spatial audio service which enables voice chat. Each company has to pay attention to laws like Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation for kids, or GDPR-K, which limits the data that can be collected on children. In those cases, a child’s parent approval will happen and then the identifying information will be discarded after the approval is associated with a given email address or login.
The process has complexities, of course. Some children may be orphans, or claim to be orphans, and others may have divorced parents, one who approves and one who doesn’t. Collins said he is glad that we’re even thinking about such questions, compared to five years ago when relatively few consumers cared about it.
“The entire game development community is starting to think more deeply about this topic than they ever have,” Collins said. “There are lots and lots of interesting edge cases and permutations here. And we’re continuing to develop this platform and solve for more and more of those on a daily basis.”
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