Gaming companies should avoid predatory models, lawmakers say

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Democrats are calling on major gaming companies to better protect children by extending the UK’s new design rules to US children. The regulations may prohibit companies from selling in-game loot boxes to minors, among other things.

In letters to dozens of major gaming companies, including Blizzard, Epic Games, Microsoft, Nintendo and Riot, Senators Ed Markey (D-MA), Kathy Castor (D-FL) and Lori Trahan (D-MA) forced leaders to expand the new UK into child planning in the US.

“It is absolutely essential that Congress act urgently to provide strong privacy protection for children and youth in the 21st century,” lawmakers wrote. “As we work toward this goal, we urge you to extend to American children and teens any privacy enhancements you introduce to comply with the AADC.”

New UK rules, called “age-appropriate design homes”, will be introduced next month for social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, as well as games such as Roblox and Minecraft. In particular, the new rules force companies to design their products in the best interests of children, to offer stricter data protection settings and practices for different age groups, and to limit the “push techniques” often used to encourage users to continue using the service.

UK law does not apply to children in the US, but in Tuesday’s letters, lawmakers urged 12 companies to voluntarily apply the same protections to Americans. In particular, the legislators argued that the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) loot box guidance does not go far enough to protect children from these “manipulations” of in-game purchases and that companies should create stricter rules under the new U.S. rules in the U.S..

“The prevalence of microtransactions — often encouraged by nudging — has led to high credit card bills for parents,” lawmakers wrote. “Loot boxes go a step further and encourage buying before a child knows what a ‘bundle’ contains – similar to gambling.”

There are already some laws in the U.S. that protect children’s privacy – most notably the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, written by Markey. However, the law only applies to children under the age of 12. The UK rules apply to minors under the age of 18. Earlier this year, Castor re-introduced “Children’s Privacy Act” which contains parts of the age-appropriate design code for Great Britain. In particular, the bill prohibits the targeting of behavioral advertising to children and forces companies to design their products in the interests of young people.

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