September 24th, 2007 by Benjamin Duranske
IMVU quietly joined Second Life in offering age verification to its members over the weekend.
The process appears similar to Second Life’s (users submit some information from government documents online and the information is instantly matched to the user’s previously-provided name in a third-party database). IMVU currently only offers the service to U.S. members via an automated process, but does also offer to verify international customers if they fax or mail a copy of a government document showing the name on the account and the age of the account holder.
From IMVU’s page on verification:
Sometimes it’s not always easy for adults to chat with other adults, safely. Now, for just $9.95, you can purchase an Age Verification Token and connect with IMVU’s growing community of adults! Every avatar verified to be age 18 or older will receive a special badge as proof, making it easy to find others who are just like you!
IMVU says that its (unnamed) third-party verification provider has a 90% success rate matching data provided over the internet. Members who cannot be verified electronically are, like international members, required to fax a copy of a government document to IMVU, or mail it to IMVU’s Palo Alto headquarters.
On its surface, the purpose of verification appears to be to assure sellers of adult-oriented content that their customers are eighteen or over, and to assure people who use the service to make romantic connections that their partners are adults. Below the surface, there’s clear public relations value in the move, and verification provides some — though hardly complete — protection from lawsuits. In the event of a lawsuit, virtual world providers who deploy third-party age verification solutions can argue that blame and liability for errors should fall on the verification company, or on the user who gave fraudulent data to the verification company, rather than on the provider. Though they’ve not been made public, virtual world providers’ contracts with third-party verification companies likely include some form of an indemnification provision.
The problem with the legal argument, though, is that I’m not even sure what eventual lawsuit virtual world providers are supposedly protecting themselves against here — it isn’t like parents are lodging lawsuits in droves against internet porn companies who expose their little ones to adult images now, and they seem to be far higher-profile targets than virtual worlds. Moreover, any lawsuit against a verification company is obviously going to name the virtual world provider too, and getting two defendants to point fingers at each other is a plaintiff lawyer’s dream. From a legal perspective, the value of this move (which appears to be turning into a trend) seems incremental, at best.
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