Why Epic Games is making its child safety tool available to developers for free

·3 min read

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

The technology comes out of an acquisition that Epic Games made last year, when it bought the company SuperAwesome, a maker of tools aimed at keeping children safe on the internet.

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

Millions of children play video games online, and titles like Fortnite have become especially popular with teenagers. That leaves many children open to having their information gathered by the games they are playing, especially since many games use a simple age verification question that essentially operates on an honor system.

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

A background concern for many companies is the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, which penalizes companies 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 the video app TikTok.

In its release, Epic said that complying with these laws can be pricey for many small developers. “[F]or hundreds of thousands of developers around the world, it remains prohibitively expensive to do the right and compliant thing for young audiences — especially when it comes to verifying the identity of parents and guardians,” the company said.

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

“Metaverse” is a term used to describe a virtual ecosystem where people can gather in real time for shared experiences using digital avatars.

One example of these shared digital experiences can be seen in the way Epic hosts concerts and movie showings in the “Fortnite” video game. Rather than compete against each other in a traditional video game structure, these events allow users to socialize via their avatars in the game.

For some time, Sweeney has predicted a future where individuals can jump from digital experience to digital experience, and retain a high-level of interaction between them.

“The metaverse will be made up of many types of experiences and will not be controlled by any one company,” Sweeney said in a statement. “This will require all of us who are building toward this future to create experiences that are not only interoperable but also take the safety of our audiences into account, no matter their age.”

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

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