Epic Games makes child privacy tech free for developers



A photo of Fortnite from Epic Games.

Epic games

Epic Games, the Cary-based maker of popular video games such as Fortnite, said Thursday it will make its parental verification technology free to all developers – a move it says is part of an effort to make safer online browsing for kids.

The technology stems from an acquisition made by Epic Games last year, when it bought the company SuperAwesome, a maker of tools to keep kids safe on the Internet.

SuperAwesome’s Kids Web Services parental verification tool allows developers to verify the identity of a parent or guardian before giving children the option to use features that collect personal information.

Millions of children play video games online, and titles like Fortnite have become particularly popular with teens. This leaves many children open to collecting information from the games they play, especially since many games use a simple age verification question that basically works on an honor system.

SuperAwesome technology checks a variety of details, such as credit card information and government records, to confirm whether a parent has given consent to a child to play a game.

A fundamental concern for many businesses is the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, which penalizes businesses that collect data on users under the age of 13. Some large tech companies have already had to pay fines for breaking this law, including TikTok video app.

In its statement, Epic said complying with these laws can be costly for many small developers. “[F]or hundreds of thousands of developers around the world, it remains prohibitive to do what is fair and consistent for young audiences, especially when it comes to verifying the identity of parents and guardians, ”said the society.

It could also help in the future development of the “metaverse,” one of the ultimate ambitions of Epic Games founder Tim Sweeney.

“Metaverse” is a term used to describe a virtual ecosystem where people can come together in real time to share experiences using digital avatars.

An example of these shared digital experiences can be seen in the way Epic arranges concerts and movie screenings in the video game “Fortnite”. Rather than competing against each other in a traditional video game structure, these events allow users to socialize through their in-game avatars.

For a while, Sweeney predicted a future where individuals could move from a digital experience to a digital experience and maintain a high level of interaction with each other.

“The metaverse will be made up of many types of experiments and will not be controlled by any company,” Sweeney said in a statement. “It will require all of us as we build toward this future to create experiences that are not only interoperable, but also consider the safety of our audiences, regardless of their age.”

“By making KWS Parental Verification free, we hope to enable more developers to create safer digital experiences, while allowing parents to make the choices that are right for their families,” he added.

This story was produced with the financial support of a coalition of partners led by Innovate Raleigh as part of an independent journalism scholarship program. The N&O retains full editorial control of the work. Learn more; go to bit.ly/newsinnover.

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Zachery Eanes is the Innovate Raleigh reporter for The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun. It covers technology, startups and large companies, biotechnology and education issues related to these fields.

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