Ubisoft Teams Up With UK Police To Handle “Extreme Cases” Of In-Game Speech Deemed Life-Threatening: “We Want To Be On The Right Side Of History”
Ubisoft has announced they are working with UK police to arrest players for their in-game speech when there is a credible threat to life.
Ubisoft has announced they are working with UK police to track, and potentially arrest, players for their in-game speech when there is a credible threat to life.
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Steffan Powell of the BBC reports Ubisoft has made the deal with Northumbria Police (who operate across the North East of England), and had been in development for a long time. Along with specialist officers who handle “harmful online interactions” educating Ubisoft’s Newcastle Customer Relationship Centre, Ubisoft can escalate “extreme cases” to the police.
These cases reportedly include a “threat to life” or “potential serious harm.” The relevant information is forwarded to the police, who ultimately decide if they need to act, though the Newcastle staff can recommend legal action. It was also noted less than 0.01% of cases the centre dealt with needed police involvement, “a handful of cases each month” as Powell describes.
Ubisoft’s Andrew Holliday told the BBC. “This isn’t just a gaming problem, it’s is an internet problem. There’s a real appetite to make the whole ecosystem a better place.”
“What we’re working on closely with police on is triaging, you know, where we look at a case and decide – ‘right is this is one we can deal with in-house? Or is this something we need to pass on?'” Holliday pondered. He explained Northumbria Police will also handle cases that almost surpass the criteria for their involvement.
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However, the scheme may extend far beyond the UK’s borders, no matter where the perpetrator lives. Holliday brings up one recent case in Norway, recalling, “Things were said and behaviours displayed that hit our threshold for intervention. There was a threat to life or serious harm.”
“The agreement with Northumbria Police meant that after we flagged it, even though it wasn’t a UK citizen – they were able to get Norwegian authorities involved. It was a lot quicker, more efficient and safer than trying to do it as a private citizen,” Holliday praised.
Powell reports that Ubisft hopes this will spark discussion in the industry and encourage other companies to “follow suit.” Damien Glorieux, Ubisoft’s Senior Director of the Newcastle Customer Relationship Centre, told the BBC, “We want to be on the right side of history. We have millions of players, and tens of millions of interactions – so how can we spot incidents?”
“It is daunting, but at the same time it is very important, which is why we wanted to sign this deal and try to make things right. We wanted to focus on the most extreme cases, make sure we do the right thing there because it gives us a solid foundation to build the rest of our work around,” Glorieux detailed.
Other staff reportedly argued the industry hadn’t been proactive in discussing how to solve poor and dangerous behavior in online games.
Detective Chief Superintendent Deborah Alderson led the Ubisoft-Northumbria Police agreement, justifying that policing “is about prioritising protecting the vulnerable. That means all of our communities not just the ones that we see in person, but our online communities as well. Policing changes continually, demands evolve and we have different challenges all the time – our job is to evolve with it.”
Along with deeming it an essential task as online activities increase, Alderson told the BBC she hopes that similar deals will be struck by other games companies and UK police forces. The Detective Ch. Supt. is even working with Dr. Gavin Oxburgh of Northumbria University — a professor of police sciences — to create an outline for others to mimic the Ubisoft-Northumbria Police agreement.
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Powell argues that the agreement also aids in customer relations, as gamers will play more if they feel safe and their concerns addressed. Ubisoft’s Newcastle Centre Experience Director Andy Millmoor told the BBC, “The important things for us is when you’re at home trying to have a good time and relax – our aim is to make sure you’re doing that in a safe environment.”
“When someone wants entertainment they’ve got a whole host of things they can do, and if you had a bad experience, if someone’s giving you a bad time online – you’re just going to go to one of the other options,” Millmoor reasons.
Chris Menahan of Information Liberation took the news poorly, warning, “If you are a parent, Ubisoft games are now a threat to your children’s future.”
Along with noting how a child saying they want to kill someone in-game could be taken out of context, and private information thrown to police in another country, Menahan insists, “The solution to in-game ‘toxicity’ for all time has been the mute button and/or growing a thick skin. The notion that Ubisoft would call the police on their users is an absolute disgrace.”
Menahan also notes how the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) teamed up with Ubisoft — along with other gaming companies and several non-profits — in 2020 to combat right-wing extremism and promote social justice in games. Their “Hate and Harassment in Online Games 2022” report drove seven Democratic members of Congress to co-sign a letter to major gaming companies to better address harassment.
In December of 2022, Activision Blizzard announced plans for AI moderation and stricter rules and a US senator grilled Valve over it’s alleged extremist and antisemitic user content on Steam that same month. One month later Blizzard Entertainment launched their audio transcription for reported voice chats in Overwatch 2.
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