bad words and maturity

I was commenting on the whole censorship imbroglio over on adam’s blog t’other day (you missed this? erotica bloggers were bitching about being kicked out of the global tags system. I tend to think the best riposte to this would have been to ship their content, traffic, and all their friends to a more welcoming host and let wordpress.com become a kids ‘n’ Christians ghetto, if that’s what they want. Bitching a lot and slamming the door on my way out, obviously.) My line remains — it’s shouldn’t be up to wordpress.com to protect me from content they (or whatever random who clicked ‘flag as mature’) think is unsuitable by hiding it from my tag searches or keeping it out of my dashboard. It’s up to me to tell wordpress.com whether or not I want or need it to be hidden from me. Which naturally got me thinking about COPPA again, and the fact that Automattic doesn’t ask for reassurance that we’re over 13.

So here’s a thread and here’s another where drmike has to think fast and censor the age of the original poster. Because a disclosure that they were under 13 would automatically put wordpress.com in violation of COPPA for knowingly having users under the age of 13 and not requiring parental permission to keep their email addresses on file.

It’s nice that they have an experienced webmaster looking out for them on this, because left to themselves I’m not sure they’d have a clue. At the moment, they’re still got deniability. Yes, drmike knows there are users claiming to be under 13, and anyone reading the forum can surmise that there are users claiming to be under 13, but we’re not employees so it doesn’t matter. But the moment an irate parent comes along saying ‘why did you let my twelve-year-old daughter sign up to this pervert-ridden site without even asking her to lie about her age to do so?’, the game is up.

I’m not sure kids can be reasonably expected to understand or abide by this ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ age policy they have in operation here. And I am not especially happy about the fact that adults can’t choose for themselves what they can and cannot view in the shared spaces of wordpress.com because of a child audience that officially doesn’t exist. So please. Flag the users, not the blogs.

3 Comments »

  1. Root said

    This whole common carrier defence was pioneered for web hosts. It has never been tested in a web 2.0 thing where (a) the users supply the content and (b) the site operator profits thereby. While I admire Mike’s dexterity in making a brilliant catch That prolly would not get Wp off the hook. My advice : Set up your servers in lets say Nigeria.

  2. Collin said

    There are a couple of blogs I could point you to where the blogger actually admits that they are (way) under 13.

    Damn that addictive Club Penguin stuff.

    Being in the UK there’s no equivalent of COPPA but I can’t help (regularly) wondering what Automattic could do to protect themselves if COPPA started looking and pointing fingers.

    @Root: phpBB has COPPA regulations built in to it. The users supply the content to that too but I believe any US based forum must have it implemented to cover themselves in the regulations.

  3. Root said

    My point is that even then it might not hold up. But as I say it hasn’t been tested in the Supreme Court yet.

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