In an effort to cut off another avenue used by online predators, several video-game companies have agreed to close the accounts of more than 3,500 registered sex offenders in New York State following an agreement with the attorney general’s office.
The agreement, which Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced on Thursday, was intended to remove sex offenders from the online scrum of millions of video-game enthusiasts of all ages who play against strangers, connected through the Internet. Many games contain an audio or text component that allows players to communicate with one another.
Mr. Schneiderman warned that those methods of communication could allow sexual predators “to establish contacts with children they would never be able to establish” in parks or playgrounds.
Among the companies that agreed to close accounts linked to sex offenders were Microsoft, which runs the Xbox Live gaming network, and Sony, which runs the PlayStation Network. Other companies that closed accounts included Electronic Arts, Warner Brothers, Disney Interactive Media Group, Blizzard Entertainment and Apple, Mr. Schneiderman said.
The agreement was the latest effort by law enforcement authorities to prohibit sex offenders from gaining access to chat rooms or social media sites. Aides to Mr. Schneiderman said New York’s was the first such ban on using online video games.
In New York, registered sex offenders are required to submit their e-mail addresses and gaming identities to the state. That information was cross-referenced against online gaming accounts before the announcement on Thursday. The companies will receive weekly updates from the sex-offender registry, aides to Mr. Schneiderman said.
“By leveraging the online identity information all registered sex offenders are required to provide, we are able to help reduce potentially harmful situations,” Rich Wallis, a vice president and deputy general counsel for Microsoft, said in a statement released by Mr. Schneiderman’s office.
Mr. Schneiderman cited two cases in the state in which predators had targeted children through online games: a case in Monroe County in which a 19-year-old man sexually abused a 12-year-old boy he met through Xbox Live, and a case on Long Island in which a man had sexually abused a 14-year-old girl he met by playing online chess.
Mr. Schneiderman said gaming sites were “attractive vehicles for sexual predators to lure children,” adding that in demonstrations of current video-game platforms, he had found the amount of interaction among strangers to be “just astonishing.”
“We must ensure online video-game systems do not become a digital playground for dangerous predators,” he said.
Mr. Schneiderman said his office hoped several additional gaming companies would agree to close accounts linked to sex offenders, but he declined to say which companies had not yet joined the effort.
His predecessor as attorney general, Andrew M. Cuomo, who is now governor, had also worked to curtail sex offenders’ access to online forums. As a result of a 2007 agreement with the attorney general’s office, Facebook agreed to make it easier for users to report sexually inappropriate conduct and to respond to such complaints within 24 hours.
In a statement responding to the new agreement, the Entertainment Software Association, which is the video-game industry’s lobbying arm, said, “Our industry welcomes appropriate efforts allowing people of all ages to play games in a safer environment.”