LL revises SL age verification

Note: On the basis of comments received, I’ve added links to past articles on age verification that will hopefully provide additional context.  

On Monday July 9th, Linden Lab made substantial revisions to the SL Age Verification system.

The Changes

The Age Verification section of the Dashboard Account services has been removed, and the Age-restricted Content section of the SL Knowledge Base has been revised. The key change is that the ability to access adult content is now determined on the basis of the date-of-birth a user supplies during the account sign-up process, as the Knowledge Base article makes clear:

“When you register for Second Life, you provide your birth date, because you are required to be at least 16 years old. If you are 13-15 years old, you may be allowed if you are restricted to the estate of a sponsoring organization. For more information, see Teens in Second Life.

“To access adult content, you must be at least 18 years old.”

Age Verification: the old (l) and gone from the new (r)

These changes mean that age verification is now the de facto means of determining a user’s ability to access adult content – the “either / or” link with having payment information on file (PIOF) is broken. While land holders can still additionally control access to their land by restricting it to those with PIOF, the new policy makes it clear that they must set access to those aged 18 or over if they have any adult content:

“Limiting land access by age

“Estate and parcel owners of adult-rated regions must limit access to Residents who are 18 years of age or older. Underage Residents are blocked from entry and receive a notification to this effect.”

In line with this,changes have been made to both the ESTATE tab in the REGION / ESTATE floater and to the ABOUT LAND floater in the latest Beta and Development viewer releases (and may already be in some recent TPV updates) – expect to see the changes in all viewers in the near future.

How the About Land floater has been updated to reflect the new policy. As it was (top) and as it will shortly appear in viewers (bottom)  – from the latest SL Dev viewer

At the same time, the land maturity ratings have been updated to replace references to age verification with the term “at least 18 years old”. Users must still set their content preferences within the viewer in order to access all land ratings – again providing their date-of-birth allows them to do so.

Issues

Following the change, users immediately began experiencing issues with accessing adult-rated land, with some finding they could now only set viewer preferences to GM where they were once GMA, others apparently finding they were unable to access adult content where they once could and so on. Reasons for the problems are unclear – but they were enough for LL to issue a Grid Status update on the 9th as more issues were reported:

“Age Verification Error

“[Posted 2:40pm PDT, 09 July 2012] We are aware that there are some issues with trying to access restricted areas of the grid.  We are looking into the cause and expect this issue to be resolved by the end of the day.  In the meantime if you need assistance with verifying your age, please contact support.”

Whether the situation was the cause of the “unscheduled maintenance” which commenced not long after is subject to speculation. Currently, it is unclear as to whether all issues have been properly resolved.

Commentary

User issues aside (and without trivialising them), this would appear to be an attempt to streamline the age verification process and make it less user-intrusive (using sign-up DoB rather than asking users to manually verify). Some of the thinking here may also be that under-18s could be signing-up under supervision (parental / teacher), so removal of the Age Verification option from the account dashboard does remove the temptation for young minds to alter things after-the-fact.

What is regretful is that Linden Lab has made no formal announcement on the change ahead of time. There was (again) nothing on the blogs or posted (so far as I can tell) to the forums. Thus, users have been left to either stumble on the changes by studying the Knowledge Base or through a head-on collision with problems resulting from the change, leaving them confused and not a little upset / angry.

Related Links

With thanks to Nyll Bergbahn. 

The simple guide to Age Verification

Update July 10, 2012: This article is now out-of-date as a result of Linden Lab changing the Age Verification Process. For updated information, please refer to this blog post

Back in July of this year, I reported on Linden Lab’s overhaul of the Age Verification process (and the small part I may have played in the thinking around it – pardon the horn toot).

It would appear that either people are continuing to avoid verifying themselves (hardly surprising given Linden Lab didn’t actually, well, tell anyone about the changes) or are unaware of any reason why they might want to verify themselves. As a result, Linden Lab are, some time in the next two weeks, going to be e-mailing all those using SL who are over the age of 18 to advise them of the Age Verification process and what it means.

If you’ve not already age verified and wish to gain access to all of Second Life (assuming you are over 18) and get ahead of Linden lab’s mail-out. Here’s how:

  • Log on to http://www.secondlife.com. This will display your Dashboard
  • On the left of the Dashboard is a panel with your name at the top. In this panel are a number of options: ACCOUNT, EVENT, etc.
  • Click on ACCOUNT. This will expand a list of account-related options
  • Locate the AGE VERIFICATION option on the drop-down list (highlighted, right) and click on it
  • You will be taken to the age verification page.

The Age Verification page will display a form requesting that you confirm your date of birth (as given when you signed-up for Second Life. If, for any reason your date of birth is incorrect or doesn’t display, you can select the month, day, year by clicking the appropriate arrow button and making a selection for each from a drop-down list.

To confirm your age, make sure you click on the confirmatory check box, then click on SUBMIT. That’s it.

You’ll be taken to a page confirming you’ve been age verified with the message, “You now have access to Adult-rated areas in Second Life! time to explore. Have a great time!”, together with information on how to update your Viewer’s maturity preferences and a link to the Destination Guide.

Maturity settings are generally found under the GENERAL tab of a Viewer’s preferences, and should be set to General, Moderate, Adult (Viewer 3.x & TPVs) or PG, Mature, Adult (Viewer 1.x TPVs) to get the full benefit from Search.

SL Age Verification Revised

(Copyright Linden Lab)

Update, July 2012: This article is now out-of-date following a further change to the Age Verification process. See this post for details.

It appears that Linden Lab has launched a new Age Verification process. This is causing more than a few waves, as Tateru and Ciaran report.

While I don’t wish to blow my own horn, I’m not actually surprised that there has been a change; this is actually something Rodvik took the time to Private Message me about via Twitter earlier in June in order to obtain some perspective on changing the system (presumably because I’m involved in the Adult Community within SL) – and I’ve little doubt he PM’d others as well to get some feedback. While he didn’t specify how the system was to be changed, it was clear from the exchange that something would be changing.

The problem with the old verification process  – really – was that it was completely misrepresented through rumour, ignorance and assumption. It was also somewhat invasive (although to be honest, I had little issue with Aristotle Integrity and providing my passport details because I made myself go read-up on the system itself and understand what it was actually about).

Among the wild (and incorrect) claims made at the time the system was introduced were the following:

  • It was used to track US citizen’s voting habits / to target US citizen for political mailshots, etc. (a rumour generated because the software came from the same company that provides political trending software to the major US political parties)
  • The software was “against European law” (and yet 12 out of the twenty top users of the software were European Union countries, including Germany, France and the UK – three countries where the “against European law” cries were the loudest)
  • That the software stored personal information on-file and made it available to third parties for a fee (yet the software does no such thing: it operates on a look-up basis with nationally-held databases and simply acts a a “tick box” confirmation service)
  • That the software supplied personal information to Linden Lab (in fact the only information passed to Linden Lab was either a tick to say a person had been successfully Age Verified or a cross to say they hadn’t).

If genuine fault were to be placed with Aristotle Integrity, it was in the fact that it could easily be fooled. The system appeared to compare supplied data with a variety of databases with no actual cross-referencing. This resulted in people being able to fool the system by giving (for example) a valid Social Security number against the name Elvis Presley and end up being verified. In the UK and Europe people were able to give “old” data relating to themselves (such as a former home address and expired passport number) and get verified. Some even claimed to be able to give completely fictitious information together with a real name (say, Donald Duck) and get verified. There was also a problem for some in that even when genuine information was given, verification would fail, or the Age Verified flag would have to be periodically re-set (I myself have had to re-verify twice since my original verification after suddenly finding myself blocked once again from land with the Age Verified flag set (rather than the PIOF flag)).

Part of the fault here was clearly with the Artistotle Integrity software, although equally, much of the blame lay with the various government databases being checked, simply because they are not cross-referenced (and we probably all breathe easier as they are not).

However, all this aside, the fact that the system required the submission of passport numbers, Social Security numbers, etc., whether or not they were stored somewhere was extremely off-putting to many – and it was this evasiveness that gave Rodvik cause to PM on the subject, and indicate privately that he felt the matter needed addressing.

The result is a completely new system that simply requires you supply a date of birth and confirm the information supplied is true.

That’s it.

New Age Verification Process (with thanks to Tateru Nino)

Doubtless the new system is going to get people up in arms once it becomes widely known, and some people are going to rail against the whole thing being a “joke” and so on simply because the system is now so “easy”. Others will doubtless cry “foul” because of the information (SSN, driver’s license, etc) they have “given” to LL in the past (even though, as stated, no information supplied is actually retained by Aristotle Integrity or LL).

However, the fault here is not LL’s: they are simply conforming to the requirements set forth by the US Federal Trade Commission’s best-practices for age-verified access to adult content on-line. It may not be the best method in the world (but can anyone point to a system that does work without falling flat on its face at the first presentation of false data that doesn’t require invasive “background checks”?). It is however what the US government considers adequate in lieu of anything better.

If nothing else, it should put an end to the more ludicrous claims made around Aristotle Integrity and take away the very genuine headaches some people did have when trying to verify using it.

We’ve yet to see any formal announcement about the new system – the news has been “leaked” via SLU, where it appears some were given a heads-up that the new system was now available for testing and opted the break the news themselves on Friday. Whether they received word from LL or perhaps from Rodvik having also been a part of the batting of ideas I had been loosely involved in via Twitter, is unclear. Given that so much of late seems to be coming to light as a result of word-of-mouth rather than any official announcement, it would be nice to see something show up on the official blog about this come Monday.

Age verification – the facts

In order to try and clear up some confusion and misconceptions relating the the upcoming Adult Content changes within Second Life, particularly around the question of age verification, I put out a NC to friends and members of my personal Group in-world recently, and thought it would be a good idea to reproduce (and expand) upon it here.

Why is Verification Required?

Because Linden Lab is making substantial changes to the way in which Second Life operates, particularly in reference to “adult content”. The details can be found elsewhere, however for the purposes of this blog entry, suffice it to say that part of the changes will result in land – and the sim level – gaining two new flags “Adult” and “Age Verified” and changes to filter-out “adult” material from SL in-world searches.

What kinds of Verification are there?

Blondin Linden, in replying to questions from Couldbe Yue, indicates there will be two means of being verified, and that for the moment it would appear to be an “either / or” situation:

  • Account verification requires a user to have payment information on file (PIOF) or Payment information used (PIU) in-world, or have given their payment details to XStreetSL. This will be sufficient to provide access to all adult-related content with the exception of land flagged with Age Verification.
  • Age verification requires (as it always has) verification via the Integrity Aristotle system. This will provide access to all adult content within SL, including land flagged as requiring Age Verification.

There are a couple of flaws in this arrangement that may yet lead to changes:

  • Some credit card companies (e.g Visa) have effectively decoupled age verification from their criteria and terms of use. So the use of credit card details as a verification of age is potentially problematical for Linden Lab going forward as Visa (the largest supplier of credit cards in the world) now give no guarantee as to the age of card users
  • The “Age verification” flag appears to be down to the land owner to set; it is difficult to see many situations where this will be the case, as few will likely want to put users off of visiting their land by making them go through the Aristotle Integrity verification process.

So it is entirely possible things may further change between now and the end of June.

The Age Verification Process

The only means at present of age verification is via Aristotle Integrity using the Age Verification link on your My Account page of the SecondLife website. While there are concerns – rightly so – about the system’s ability to verify accurate / inaccurate information & whether it is actually an effective means of ring-fencing a service, I don’t intend to enter that debate. All I’d like to do here is clear up a few misconceptions relating to the service that seem to be circulating.

  • “Aristotle breaks EU law”. No. Integrity is used in every major country in the the EU. Of the top 10 countries employing the software, 6 are EU nations: UK, the Republic of Ireland, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain
  • “The information is US-centric and doesn’t apply anywhere else”. No. Set your country of origin when completing the form, and then select the verification criteria applicable to your country
  • “You don’t know what information is being stored / datamined”. Linden Lab state outright that no personal information is stored by either Linden Lab or Aristotle-Integrity, the only caveat being “that [which] is required by law, i.e. pursuant to a law enforcement investigation and proper legal process”

Things (good and bad) to bear in mind:

  • The system is currently accepted by some 152 countries worldwide as a “safe” means of verification
  • The process is a simple secure system to secure system check. The data you provide is ostensibly validated against government-held information relating to you. This does not result in further information relating to you being passed by Integrity or any information about you being passed to Linden Lab. It results in a simple “tick-in-the-box” that you are age verified
  • While Aristotle as a company have had certification under the EU / US Safe Harbour data policy, the certification is currently listed as not current
  • It’s pretty easy to fool the system – Elvis Presley appears to be one of the most frequently-verified people to have used Integrity.

Yes, there are broader concerns relating to Aristole as a company and the use of more detailed information it captures. But again, these need to be balanced against several factors, including a) the actual information being asked for as a part of this verification process, and b) the systems referred to in articles such as the Vanity Fair link relate not to Integrity, but to Aristotle’s other products.

But – if you are concerned, there is an easy answer: don’t use Age Verification; it is very probable that the majority of “Adult” access will be set to “Account Verified” rather than “Age Verified” – at least initially.

Hope this clears things up a little!