It seems that this needs a breakout post as a follow on from trying to allow my 7 year old son Predlet 2.0 to use the online features of FIFA 14. In trying to manage his account(s) and finding I was not able to I ended up on the phone to EA support. After a little while of too and fro with 1st level support I was transferred to an more knowledgable person.
I was told, quite frankly, that because of US federal law and the COPPA(Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act) regulations anyone under 13 gets more privacy protection. I was happy with that, it makes sense.
Next it seems that EA/Origin create an account based on the birthdate on Xbox One. Once they know the person is under 13 they create a Minor account. Again, it makes sense.
Next it seems that no-one in EA is able to edit the minor’s account regardless of the parents wishes until they are 13 (yes that is no-one!). The excuse being, US federal law doesn’t let them.
This is of course where it gets a odd, and incorrect.
COPPA appears to place more restrictions on what companies do with under 13’s, triggered at any point by any service anywhere asking or discovering a date of birth. Then making the company duty bound to protect the information further.
For EA this amounts to a total ban on under 13’s on pretty much any online title regardless of PEGI rating or parental wishes. By reading the parental approval I was apparently giving approval to this process not giving approval as a parent to allow access.
I wondered how any service anywhere could be used by kids, and comply with US law. I looked at the Moshi Monsters COPPA statement. That appears that they have put in the work and the words to cover COPPA (link is here)
As part of the registration process, we require demographic information (gender, country of residence and birth date); we encourage you to submit this information so we can provide you a more personalized experience. We limit the information we collect, both actively (i.e., what we ask kids) and passively (what we collect through use of web tracking mechanisms like “cookies”) to that which is necessary for kids to take part in a particular Moshi Monsters game activity.
I was directed to EA’s COPPA statement by the support on the phone.
They have a lot less text.
2. Why do you now need an age gate?
Changes to COPPA now require age verification for some of our games that use information gathered by the app and gameplay of the game. According to COPPA, players of these games now have to be age 13 or older.
3. If I’m under 13 years old, will I still be able to play EA mobile games?
For most games, yes. For games that require it, players will see the age verification check the first time you launch or log into the game on or after June 13, 2013. Once the verification is complete, you’ll be able to enter into your game.
For certain games, players under the age of 13 won’t be able to continue. We’ve worked to ensure this is not the case for as many games as possible. These are new requirements that weren’t in place when we first launched our games, and while we must make every effort to stay in compliance with such important laws, we hate that it comes at the cost of some of our players.
The US government provide a clear description of COPPA though here
As a parent, you have control over the personal information companies collect online from your kids under 13. The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act gives you tools to do that. The Federal Trade Commission, the nation’s consumer protection agency, enforces the COPPA Rule. If a site or service is covered by COPPA, it has to get your consent before collecting personal information from your child and it has to honor your choices about how that information is used.
Nothing in COPPA says that kids can’t be on services. It says that parental permission is needed and security measures need to be in place.
So it is fairly clear that EA have taken the route of just to bothering. Deciding it was too difficult to protect the data. Which of course doesn’t bode well for the rest of us if the data is not secure. They have not provided the parental approval and maintenance tools though even at this basic level. As it stands right now they have an Origin account for predlet 2.0 bound to his Xbox Live account. They have captured his date of birth, yet they do not allow me as a parent to remove that account, or even see if the date of birth is correct?
The online features they use and the data collection they make, the communication options etc are all standard now. I would be more than happy if they use the parental approval system, or they just did not allow an Origin account to be created at all, which is effectively what happens which then cripples the online activity on any EA game on the Xbox One. You cannot logoff from origin, you cannot unbound an Xbox Live ID from EA Origin ID.
Whilst they could not recommend lying about age the implication was that it was better to have another Xbox Live account, with a “different” date of birth and create an EA Origin account with that. That hardly seems to be the right approach to have to lie about age or give access to a full adult account on systems just because EA don’t have the will or the ability to follow the rules?
So parents, if you want your kids to explore and enjoy online gaming activity, with your overwatch then avoid EA Origin games. Showing kids the right way to behave and interact online with one another seems to have to start by setting a bad example and bypassing a system because a large corporate entity can’t find a way to comply sensibly?