In a landmark initiative, the Attorney General's office coalesced the major online gaming companies behind the cause of protecting children online. Microsoft, Apple, Blizzard, Electronic Arts, Disney, Warner Bros. and Sony all agreed to remove more than 3,500 registered New York State Sex Offenders from their online gaming networks. The companies voluntarily participated in the effort and purged the accounts when they were approached by the Attorney General.
Online gaming networks present safety concerns because gamers can play and communicate anonymously with other users via the Internet. More than a quarter of American teens interact with individuals they do not know while playing these games. The Attorney General's efforts come in the wake of recent incidents wherein sexual predators have used voice and text chat functions in online gaming services to solicit underage victims, including an April 2012 conviction in upstate New York.
The Attorney General's tips for parents include:
- Choose games appropriate for your child’s age and maturity level;
- Use your game console’s parental controls;
- Keep computer or game console in a public area of the home for easy parental monitoring; and
- Talk to your kids about how to protect identifying information, and to avoid and report conversations that make them uncomfortable.
The Electronic Security and Targeting of Online Predators Act (e-STOP), proposed by the Attorney General's office in 2008, is the nation’s most comprehensive legislation to deal with the threat of sexual predators on the Internet. New York was the first state in the nation to pass such stringent regulations prohibiting registered sex offenders from using social networking sites to prey on young teens and children.
The law also requires convicted sex offenders to register their Internet identifiers including email addresses and screen names. As a result of these efforts, more than two dozen social networking companies receive a list of sex offender Internet identifiers from the Division of Criminal Justice Services every week to identify predators and to block those users from accessing their sites. These companies also alert law enforcement to potential sex offenders on their sites.
Since the program's inception, this cooperative effort between law enforcement and social networking companies has resulted in the removal of tens of thousands of unsafe accounts, keeping our children out of harm's way.
In 2008, the New York State Attorney General's office conducted an unprecedented undercover investigation that revealed a major source of online child pornography known as Newsgroups, an online service not associated with websites. The Newsgroups act as online public bulletin boards where users can upload and download files. Users access Newsgroups through their Internet Service Providers (ISPs).
Following his investigation, the Attorney General announced landmark agreements with Verizon, Time Warner Cable, and Sprint to shut down the major sources for online child pornography. Other major companies, such as AT&T, subsequently signed agreements with the office as well. The agreements with the ISPs blocked access to child porn from two significant sources: eliminating access to child porn Newsgroups and also purging ISP servers of all child pornography websites identified by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC).
Together with Facebook, the Office created a groundbreaking safety model for social networking websites aimed at protecting network members, especially children and adolescents, from sexual predators, obscene content, and harassment. This agreement with Facebook served as a template for a subsequent subsequent agreement between MySpace and 49 states’ Attorneys General, including New York.
The New York State Attorney General set a new model for ensuring the safety of children on social networking sites with his groundbreaking settlement with Facebook.com in October 2007, after an extensive undercover investigation into the popular social networking site. Posing as underage Facebook users, investigators and attorneys from the Internet Bureau were easily able to access a wide range of pornographic content on Facebook, contrary to Facebook’s reassurances and proclamations about user safety and inappropriate content. The Attorney General’s undercover team also received numerous sexual solicitations from adult users of the site. When our investigators lodged complaints to Facebook about vulgar images or harassing behavior, Facebook in many instances failed to act, again in violation of their own policies and commitments to user safety.
The New York State Attorney General and Facebook announced the settlement in October 2007. Facebook agreed to implement a new and improved complaint system to ensure that Facebook takes immediate action to protect users who identify illegal or harassing behavior on the site. Since the settlement, Facebook has successfully addressed the vast majority of user complaints within 24 hours. Facebook was also required to make more accurate and fulsome disclosures about user safety and inappropriate content and behavior on the site. The New York State Attorney General also installed a third party examiner to monitor Facebook’s compliance with the settlement and to ensure that complaints are addressed on a real-time basis. The Attorney General’s settlement has subsequently been used as a model for other social networking sites to address user safety and to protect kids online.