Epic is making its parent verification system available for free as part of its online services platform, the company announced on Thursday. The technology is used by a number of popular online games, including Fortnite and Pokémon Go, and it's the product of a company named SuperAwesome, which Epic purchased in September 2020.
The goal of SuperAwesome's parent verification, part of a product suite called Kids Web Services, is to allow children under the age of 13 to play online games with the full consent of their parent or guardian. Epic is now making it freely available through its Epic Online Services platform, which makes features Epic built for Fortnite like cross-platform play and cloud saving available to any game developer at no cost.
The verification system checks a parent's credit card details and the last four digits of their Social Security number, as well as other biographical information, against government records to make sure someone under the age of 13 isn't sneaking onto an app or game by misrepresenting their age or identity. One of the main concerns in the U.S. is COPPA, or the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, that penalizes tech providers with steep fines for gathering account information on children under the age of 13. Yet because so many apps and games rely on only a simple age verification question during signup if someone is of age, it's fairly easy to bypass without a parent knowing.
"We started the company about eight years ago, looking at the number of kids going online and the rise of privacy laws, specifically COPPA. As we started to talk to more people, we realized back then nobody really wants to talk about kids on the internet. They were just happy for everyone to tick a box and pretend they were someone else," said SuperAwesome CEO Dylan Collins in an interview with Protocol. "We wanted to make it easier for developers and content owners to have compliant interaction with young audiences."
Prior to joining Epic, SuperAwesome's platform had a price tag that scaled with the size of a company's product or service, making it prohibitive to small- or medium-sized companies, Collins said. "The very, very big developers can afford to think about young audiences," he said. "They can build homegrown solutions to allow parents to verify and in turn provide consent for their kids to use services. For most medium-sized developers, a lot of the friction they see is economic. It's an extra cost to implement, and it's not straightforward in the first place."
Collins said he hopes making this verification feature freely available is the first step toward building a better ecosystem for both developers creating games and the parents of younger children who might play them.
"You look at the kid tech space [that] has had a fairly profound lack of investment relative to the number of kids online generally," he said. "Five years ago, people were afraid to talk about this publicly. If you go forward in time five or 10 years, for any user that is interacting with a service or piece of content there can be infrastructure at multiple levels that is automatically switching between the privacy and content needs of an 8-year-old, a 14-year-old and a 25-year-old."