Is Congress the smoking gun behind Second Life's turnaround on adult content?

So, ever wonder what's really motivating Linden Lab's recent push to implement an Adult content rating and firm up age-verification for Second Life? How about HR110-920 FINANCIAL SERVICES AND GENERAL GOVERNMENT APPROPRIATIONS BILL, 2009?

This is an appropriations bill that covers a lot of ground, covering appropriations for a whole lot of things. Introduced on 10 December 2008, the bill specifically includes an appropriation for an investigation and report to Congress on explicit content in virtual environments and on the access to those environments by minors.

"The Committee is concerned about reports of explicit content that can be easily accessed by minors on increasinly[sic] popular virtual reality web programs. The Committee directs the FTC to issue a consumer alert to educate parents on the content that is available to children on virtual reality web programs. In addition, no later than 9 months after enactment of this Act, the Commission shall submit a report to the Appropriations Committee discussing the types of content on virtual reality sites and what steps, if any, these sites take to prevent minors from accessing content." [HR110-920]

Virtual Worlds News reports that two FTC attorneys have already been tasked with this investigation and report from March this year (despite that there's no record that the appropriations bill has been passed at this stage). The report is supposedly due in December.

March, you may recall, is the month that Linden Lab surprised everyone with its new age-verification and separating out the most extreme Second Life content into its own area.

Up until now, Linden Lab has been using the FTC's recommended best-practice age-verification system: Asking people if they were 18 or over, and believing them.

Whether or not the FTC has been okay with that to-date, has little bearing on what Congress will think when it gets the report.

"Congress is worried that virtual worlds that set a minimum age of 13 (for COPPA purposes) or 18 (to keep out all minors) don't adequately screen out younger users. And, of course, they're often right." [VWN]

Linden Lab developers have mentioned to Second Life users that they are pushing very hard to get all of the technical mechanics for the new scheme in place by a deadline only a few weeks away. Would anyone be surprised if the investigation is scheduled to come to the Lab some short time after that date?


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This article was originally published on Massively.