above the law

Root says, in the middle of yet another thread about global tags (I don’t know where Lorelle gets this strange idea that if we complain, they might change it):

Of course strictly speaking there are no *kids* at WordPress dot com anyway.

Which seems as good a moment as any to mention that Xanga got fined $1million for COPPA violations last year. They had well over a million kids, though, so I don’t expect Automattic are worried. We have a lot fewer than that, and at less than a dollar a child, the ads on the kiddieblogs would easily cover the fine ;)

What I would like? I would like wordpress.com to wipe the illegally-obtained email addresses of under-13s from its database. (Yes, I know they’re not going to do anything bad with that data, but do any of us know where we’re going to be in a few years time? You can’t promise that any future owner wouldn’t sell addresses on, any more than Danga could promise that there would never be ads on livejournal.) I would like some way of telling wordpress.com that I am over 18 and I don’t need protecting from content that they or one of their users considers ‘mature’. And I would really like somebody to explain to me why, if both wordpress.com and livejournal are based in California, only one of them is required to abide by US law.

(Before you try, I don’t think the ‘common carrier’ argument is going to work on a host which actively monitors content for links it doesn’t like the look of. And I’m not going to be convinced by ‘we don’t ask for birthdates so we don’t know how old they are’ either. If I go to a blog’s About page and it tells me the author’s twelve, I’m going to go ahead and assume the author’s twelve. And you should probably be grateful that I am neither a paedophile nor a Daily Mail reporter.)

17 Comments »

  1. Root said

    WW I think you are right on the money. The common carrier is not going to fly. The Court might well treat com as one single gigantic site. The news desk plus the position vis a vis advertising, inbound links, dashboards etc make that quite likely. And the real mess as you say is that everybody else has to worry about their blogs being *mature*.
    One of the freedoms of blogging is that people can get into all kinds of stuff that is closed in the mainstream media. And a bit of porn never hurt anybody. People do not have to see it / read it whatever. Kids and Christians may not be a good market to be in.

  2. Alan said

    I thought they were required by law to know the ages of their users, if only to protect younger users (and themselves).

  3. Kissing Bandit said

    It’s funny that most bulletin board software, by default, requires users to confirm their age before they’re allowed to sign up for an account. One would think there’s a good reason for that.

    Of course, WP.com only worries about the law when it comes knocking on their front door…

    -KB

  4. Kids and Christians may not be a good market to be in.

    From the point of view of free speech, absolutely. From the point of view of dollars, no. Remember that the Adsense ToS won’t let you show ads on blogs with ‘mature content’. Ideally, Automattic would like everyone, of every age, to blog on their approved list of PG-rated subjects and keep bad words to a minimum. Then having kids here wouldn’t be an issue, the advertisers would be happy, and everything would be Disney.

    Unfortunately, in the real world, rashes of porn spam pop up in the comments and the Tag Surfer on a daily basis. And relying on users to police each other’s blogs for R-rated content is always going to allow numerous ‘adult’ blogs to slip through onto tags pages. People tend to read the same sort of blog as they write, and they don’t rat on their friends.

    Why should I be invited to report blogs for being ‘mature’, for heaven’s sake? I don’t have any objection to blogs being mature. Why can’t I report them for being ‘obscene’? Because Automattic think ‘mature’ and ‘obscene’ are interchangeable. If that doesn’t bother you, it should.

  5. drmiketemp said

    They (meaning Donncha when he watched over the forums way back when.) have used the “common carrier” excuse in the past.

  6. timethief said

    I blogged on this some time ago now. Perhaps you would like to read the post http://bloggersblurt.wordpress.com/2007/02/21/childrens-online-privacy-protection-act/

  7. timethief said

    Note that the quote in the post was taken from this forum thread http://en.forums.wordpress.com/topic.php?id=5137

  8. Root said

    tt the quote wasn’t from that thread I think. Furthermore when mods are deleting any mention of age from minors in posts Autocrattic is on very thin ice I would think.

  9. timethief said

    Yes indeed it certainly was form that thread Root.
    http://en.forums.wordpress.com/topic.php?id=5137&page&replies=11

    mark Key Master November 7th, 2006 at 6:34 pm

    (1) I could be wrong but I believe the law requires that you have to be 13 years of age or older to have your own blog here.

    We have no such requirement.

  10. timethief said

    However, IMO regardless of what number is used there is no way to validate age. Anyone can lie. Therefore placing the onus on blog hosts to verify the age of their bloggers would not be feasible.

  11. IMO regardless of what number is used there is no way to validate age

    Getting age confirmation or parental permission is easy enough on paid services (such as Club Penguin) because they’re charging daddy’s credit card; so even if he doesn’t know what his little poppet’s signed up for, he’ll soon find out. On free sites, absolutely, you can lie your head off. What was weird about the Xanga case was that so many kids didn’t. They entered their birthdate and ticked the box certifying they were over 13 without regard for the contradiction between them. I suppose getting the birth year right does require a little basic arithmetic.

    So yes, ticky boxes are stupid and easily circumvented, but it doesn’t alter the fact that wordpress.com is breaking US law by holding data on under-13s without parental authorisation. And if this ever catches up with them, their complete disregard for COPPA may well attract a larger fine than ineffectual enforcement would.

  12. drmiketemp said

    Furthermore when mods are deleting any mention of age from minors in posts Autocrattic is on very thin ice I would think.

    Agreed. Please remember though that I didn’t (not do I still) agree with everything that Automattic does. At least though I understand the under 13 laws. I personally have about 2 dozen under age clients currently and for all of them, I have had contact and permission with their parents. Even the one from Italy.

    As I understand the Xanga site, the birthday input is done on the account profile, not during signup. At least that’s how I read the MSNBC article.

  13. JRSofty said

    I had thought COPPA was overruled in federal court. I found these links that date back to 2000
    http://www.wired.com/politics/law/news/2000/06/37171
    http://www.epic.org/free_speech/copa/3d_cir_opinion.html
    but I know I’ve heard about it more recently. Has anyone else heard about this?

  14. Root said

    Both those two links concern interim injunctions or what is called *prior restraint* in the US. I do not know the outcome at trial.

  15. [...] created by young children outnumber mature blogs many times over’. OK, there goes your COPPA deniability. I hope you took legal advice before doing that. Or at least checked that Matt was happy to pay the [...]

  16. [...] (want to see something scary? Google ‘wordpress.com club penguin’. The place is an illegal creche.) There’s the handling of corporate clients. Akismet. Overhauling Gravatar. Going to [...]

  17. Kissing Bandit said

    Reviving a long archived post to mention that it would be difficult for Automattic to deny it has children using its service with posts like “Yay I’m 11” floating around. Wonder how long it will take for the long arm of the law to smack them upside the head.

    -KB

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