Democrats are calling on some of the largest gaming companies to better protect children by extending new UK design rules to children in the US. The regulations could ban companies from selling in-game loot boxes to minors, among other restrictions.
In letters to a dozen major gaming companies, including Blizzard, Epic Games, Microsoft, Nintendo, and Riot, Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA), Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL), and Rep. Lori Trahan (D-MA) pressed executives to extend new UK design regulations to children in the US.
“It is imperative that Congress acts with urgency to enact a strong privacy law for children and teens in the 21st century,” the lawmakers wrote. “As we work towards that goal, we urge you to extend to American children and teens any privacy enhancements that you implement to comply with the AADC.”
The new UK rules, called the “Age Appropriate Design Code,” are set to roll out next month, applying to social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram as well as games like Roblox and Minecraft. Specifically, the new rules force companies to design their products in the “best interests” of children, offer stricter privacy settings and policies for different age groups, and restrict “nudging techniques” often used to encourage users to continue using the service.
The UK law does not extend to children in the US, but in Tuesday’s letters, lawmakers called on the 12 companies to voluntarily apply these same protections to Americans. Notably, the lawmakers argued that the Entertainment Software Rating Board’s (ESRB) loot box guidance does not go far enough in protecting children from “manipulation” associated with these in-game purchases and that the companies should create stricter regulations in compliance with the new UK rules in the US.
“The prevalence of micro-transactions—often encouraged through nudging— have led to high credit card bills for parents,” the lawmakers wrote. “Loot boxes go one step further, encouraging purchase before a child knows what the ‘bundle’ contains— akin to gambling.”
The US already has some laws protecting children’s privacy — most notably the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, authored by Markey. But the law only applies to children under the age of 12. The UK rules extend to minors under the age of 18. Earlier this year, Castor reintroduced her “Kids PRIVCY Act” which includes elements of the UK’s Age Appropriate Design Code. Specifically, the bill would prohibit behavioral ad targeting to children and force companies to design their products in the best interests of young people.