IMVU

A Consumer Report on IMVU 3d Chat

What the heck is IMVU you may be asking? Surely you've seen their ads across the internet or received an invitation from a friend. IMVU is a popular 3d messenger chat service, where you can make your own avatars and furnish your own rooms with items from their catalog to enhance your chat experience - it's more of a virtual visual chat rather than the usual textbased services like MSN Messenger, Yahoo and ICQ. It also has a community aspect to it, similar to services like myspace. While still in beta phase, the service is actually rather interesting not to mention addicting. There are also extras that you can purchase, such as buying your screen name for a few bucks which removes the Guest_ moniker from the front of it. They say it's also supposed to remove advertising, though you still see IMVU's in-house ads, marketing their latest gimmick which usually consists of something like a Wizard bundle(reminiscent of Harry Potter) - including a room and furniture and some credits for you to spend in the catalog.

Also sold as an extra is something called the Access Pass, where those 18 and older can access items for sale in their catalog that's rated Restricted. According to their own terms of service, product ratings on the site are "roughly equivalent to the Motion Picture Association of America's PG-13, R, and NC-17 ratings,". Their content policy goes on to state that IMVU's "three rating categories are General Audience (like "PG-13"), Access Pass Only (like "R"), and Unsuitable for IMVU (like "NC-17" and adult). Obviously, it is difficult to define clear lines that distinguish between any set of useful ratings, and it is impossible to do so without incurring some disagreement. Rather than start from scratch, we will apply the spirit of the MPAA's movie ratings, which have stood the test of time, and of PayPal's Mature Audience Policy, which articulates a policy that is reasonably equivalent to the MPAA's R rating.". Do the customers get what they pay for? Specifically, they claim1: Clarification on General Audience vs. Restricted vs. Mature Product, homepage, or avatar picture ratings should follow the criteria set by the Movie Picture Association for PG-13 (IMVU's "General Audience" rating), R (IMVU's "Restricted" rating), or NC-17 (IMVU's "Mature" rating). Examples of items that are NOT appropriate for General Audience ratings might include:

1 http://web.archive.org/web/*/http://www.imvu.com/catalog/web_info.php?topic=mature_content_policy

Sensual massage/touch/caressing/kissing Suggestive posturing or demeanor Full female nudity Non full-frontal male nudity (butt is OK, crotch is not) Tastefully depicted nude art STAY AWAY FROM THE CROTCH. CROTCHY NO LIKEY. Any part of one avatar's body romantically involved with another avatar's crotch. Voyeuristic or �up-skirt� shots Pictures that over-accentuate, highlight, or focus solely on the breast, buttocks, or genitalia Messages containing blatant references to sexual stimulation / excitement (ie: �[xxxx] makes me horny�) Items representing, advertising or promoting smoking, recreational drugs, or marijuana use Items or products containing suggestive, lewd, vulgar or sexually-explicit gestures or language Clothing items (thongs/lingerie/bikinis, etc) that cover less than 50% of the buttocks and all of the groin. Clothing items (blouses/lingerie/bras, etc) that cover less than 50% of the female breast and/or cleavage. R-rated violence (ie: products that depict, endorse, or demonstrate violence, homicide, or suicide, but do not do so very graphically. In other words, the kind of thing you might see in a softer R-rated action or horror flick) Something you would not see on a prime time or family TV show in the United States Something you would not let your 13 year old sister or brother see, wear, or buy in the real world, or something they would not be permitted to wear to school. Examples of items that are not appropriate for the IMVU catalog might include: Exposed male genitalia, close up shots of female genitalia. Graphic masturbation, sex, or genitalia on genitalia action; or the use of instruments, dildos, vibrators, or other apparatus engaged in penetration. Explicit sexual intercourse or penetration Bestiality Items that violate IMVU�s TOS Items that promote, instruct, or advertise illegal activities Products, homepages, or content created or used explicitly to malign or degrade another user Anything that overtly harasses, degrades, intimidates or is hateful toward an individual or group of individuals on the basis of religion, gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, age, or disability

Items or symbols representing, promoting, or advertising hate-based organizations (Neo-nazi, KKK) Anything that depicts extreme images of graphic violence, dismemberment, self-mutilation, homicide, suicide, or cruelty to animals; or anything depicting extremely grotesque images or acts in general Anything that includes personal or identifying information about another person without that person's explicit consent Anything that exploits children or minors

In reality though, IMVU applies this policy with a "make it up as you go along" enforcement. They routinely disable products claiming they fall under "mature" or "UFI"(Unfit For IMVU) which are legitimately bought, such as pole dances and poses of people cuddling that would fall under Restricted if they abided by their own stated policy. The administrators who run the site fail to understand the difference between "romantically involved" when it comes to "suggestive poses and demeanors" vs. graphic and explicit imagery. We have even seen a "Passion Pose Couch" with a rather innocent pose of one person straddling another's lap be reviewed and determined to be "mature", the equivalent of an NC-17 rating in their own words, by an unnamed IMVU administrator.

Clearly obscene and a public menace, right? This couch was created by a 16 year old kid involved in IMVU's 3rd party developer program, and did manage to get the decision reversed at the lobbying of other 3rd party product developers on the site, but it's questionable whether it would have been returned had she not sold 16,000+ of them at the time for about 770 IMVU credits(around the equivalent of 75 cents, small change but when having to issue refunds for the product it would add up quickly). Examples of items rated "Restricted", meaning you need to fork up $20 for an Access Pass to view and use, include this obelisk

Why would anyone consider this item rated R? You could see it in any PG rated film, but I guess they have to fill the catalog with something. IMVU publishes their Mature Content Policy prominently and makes it a big part of the sale of their Access Pass. Selling an age 18+ only Access Pass to purchase products considered "roughly equivalent to the Motion Picture Association of America's R ratings" and offering primarily pg-13 equivalent "restricted" products for purchase is by definition fraudulent, starting with what's called False Advertising. From Dictionary.com: Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of Law Main Entry: false ad·ver·tis·ing Function: noun : the crime or tort of publishing, broadcasting, or otherwise publicly distributing an advertisement that contains an untrue, misleading, or deceptive representation or statement which was made knowingly or recklessly and with the intent to promote the sale of property, goods, or services to the public Not only is the vast majority of the content in the Restricted portion of the catalog PG-13 rated equivalent, but those customers who don't have the Access Pass end up having to shell out $20 to IMVU before they can regain the access to the numerous General Audience(again, by IMVU's own stated policy is PG-13) products which they bought in good faith, and are then falsely rated as 18+ restricted content. This by definition is Bait and Switch.

Law.com defines bait and switch as n. a dishonest sales practice in which a business advertises a bargain price for an item in order to draw customers into the store and then tells the prospective buyer that the advertised item is of poor quality or no longer available and attempts to switch the customer to a more expensive product. Electronic items such as stereos, televisions, or telephones are favorites, but there are also loan interest rates which turn out to be only for short term or low maximums, and then the switch is to a more expensive loan. In most states this practice is a crime and can also be the basis for a personal lawsuit if damages can be proved. The business using "bait and switch" is an apt target for a class action since there are many customers but each transaction scarcely warrants the costs of a separate suit." Why does IMVU not wish to make good on their own sales pitch?

It's speculated that it has to do with all the bad press they've received about minors gaining access to "adult" products there, and for some reason are now considering an age verification system to combat this(their Terms Of Service explicitly states they already have one), though at the same time their staff has repeatedly stated that they have no intention of changing their stance on Unsuitable For IMVU content, and that it isn't up for discussion.

While I'm sure some would prefer to believe that it was a matter of kids "sneaking through" to buy the Access Pass, it must be noted that from Oct. 2006 until around late February of 2007 IMVU's policy was that2: The General Audience content will be available to all users over 13 years old. The Restricted content will be available only to users who have purchased the Access Pass, which IMVU will take reasonable steps to make available only to users either over 18 years old or over 13 years old if and only if they have parent permission. So in short, for quite some time IMVU's policy was to sell their Access Pass to under-aged kids giving them access to Restricted content both in their catalog and chat client. Now the customers are peddled a bill of goods seemingly due to IMVU's own incompetence and stupidity, in order to shore up their public image, while taking the money of customers who are grown adults. Many of their customers are not taking this lightly, filing complaints with state offices across the US, as well as seeking legal redress in other parts of the world. Payment services such as PayPal have also received many complaints. One prominent example: Heres the text of the complaint from Australia: Attention Nino Cavenecia, IMVU. As it appears that IMVU.Inc has continually violated trade practice laws in almost every jurisdiction, we have had no course but to ask for a hearing in The Australian Courts. Notice is hereby given in the first instance that an application has been made to The Australian High Court, representing all states and territories of Australia and its boundaries, that IMVU.Inc will need to appear before the court on grounds that it has defrauded customers by offering the Access Pass, that was intended for mature content. That in offering this product, and allowing developers of products that actually breached the TOS(known hereafter as Terms Of Service) of IMVU.Inc , however were allowed to stay in the catalog system for considerable time without being removed, and in doing so willingly allowed legitimate Access Pass Holders to firstly pay for such items with real credits that were obtained by several real cash transaction/and or Promotional Credits, also in doing so took from developers a fee for the said content, has breached under the Australian Trade Practices Act, the following Offences. TRADE PRACTICES ACT 1974 - SECT 53 False or misleading representations A corporation shall not, in trade or commerce, in connexion with the supply or possible supply of goods or services or in connation with the promotion by any means of the supply or use of goods or services: (a) falsely represent that goods are of a particular standard, quality, value, grade, composition, style or model or have had a particular history or particular previous use; (aa) falsely represent that services are of a particular standard, quality, value or grade;
2 Ibid

(c) represent that goods or services have sponsorship, approval, performance characteristics, accessories, uses or benefits they do not have; (a) make a false or misleading representation with respect to the price of goods or services; TRADE PRACTICES ACT 1974 - SECT 58 Accepting payment without intending or being able to supply as ordered A corporation shall not, in trade or commerce, accept payment or other consideration for goods or services where, at the time of the acceptance: (a) the corporation intends: (I) not to supply the goods or services; or (ii) to supply goods or services materially different from the goods or services in respect of which the payment or other consideration is accepted

IMVU.Inc will be required to be represented in these proceedings and also in the Small Claims Division of the NSW Supreme Court. There are 312 small claims Plaintiffs filing claims for non refund in real credits for goods paid for. Promo credits in these cases were never used for the purchase of legitimate products that IMVU.Inc allowed into its catalog. All court papers and evidentiary documents have now been processed and the Courts will be mailing to the address supplied on the IMVU.Inc website. You(IMVU.Inc) The Defendant have 21 days from the service of papers to respond with a defense, or admit the claim or not respond. In the case of not responding Judgment will be entered against the defendant and court orders will be made in compliance with the Trade Practices Act and the Small Claims Division. We strongly urge IMVU.Inc to respond/and or come clean with the real reason for taking away product and selling a false instrument. We will assert at a hearing that IMVU.Inc is trying in a desperate bid to wash its hands of so called **** Pass, in the event that it now wishes to market itself to the under age market, and in the event of a takeover bid or buyout wishes to have a clean image. Upon legal advice you have sold a product here in this country and it has been adverted and sold, in a manner that now breaches law.

To date all correspondence that we have tried to forward on has been ignored, and threads on the forum have been deleted or blocked. We intend to take this to the full extent of the law and serve this notice without prejudice.

Regards

Dr. Gary Martin PhD University Canterbury UK Class Action Suit IMVU.com is owned by The Will Harvey Company. Will Harvey is also the founder of There, a similar service to IMVU. "Forterra Systems was formed in 1998 as There, changing its name to Forterra in 2004 to reflect its expanding focus on virtual world technologies for consumer, business and government services." Forterra was later acquired by Makena Technologies. IMVU's chat technologically speaking is pretty interesting and impressive in my view, as well as the whole "virtual economy" set-up for the 3rd party developers who submit their products, but truth to be told you're much better off going with a service like Second Life.com or Red Light Center.com - where you stand a much better chance of actually getting what you pay for.

Update: IMVU is still disabling products people paid for(often without refund or reimbursement) that are no worse than the avatar actions/poses that IMVU themselves created and endorse as part of the Access Pass features, and are doing so without notice to users of the site. Products such as these caress bed and mat are classified in IMVU's catalog as Restricted, again the equivalent of an R rating in their own words, and thus need to buy an 18+ only Pass to even view them. These products have no business being rated the equivalent of pg-13 let alone R. This is fraud and false advertising that IMVU continues to engage in, and apparently have no intent of stopping anytime soon.

The latest from IMVU customer JonnyBeBad: About the Credit Refunds: Well, wouldn't you know it, IMVU did in fact manage to mess up the refunds... I've received many reports of non-refunded items, double refunds, every possible screw-up. if there is a way to mess anything up, IMVU manages to do it. And no reports of anyone getting money back for the AP. What can I say? Our original legal objectives (reproduced below) involved getting our stolen goods back and forcing IMVU to give us an adult neighborhood in which they could be used. Basically, for them to give back what they sold us, that which has been supporting their company all along. But after witnessing these three months of extreme incompetence, I am considering simply pushing for a cash refund for everyone concerned. IMVU is simply too messed up. They will always be messed up. I don't think I want to encourage anyone to continue a relationship with this company. I have temporarily postponed our legal actions while we wait for Dr. Martin's class action suit to go through the higher courts of Australia. This will take place in about three weeks. After seeing the results of that case, and IMVU's response to the ruling, we will better know what to push for in our case. However, at this time, as I stated before, I am leaning entirely for a simple money back refund. Everyone on the Legal List will receive detailed instructions on what to do to get their money back. Everyone not on the legal list will most likely be screwed. So get on the list! Send an email to jonnyteam@yahoo.com with the word Legal in the subject box. No, you do not have to be Australian or fly to Australia. Just sign some forms. If you would like to testify at that hearing via telephone, skype, or webcam, it will be arranged. NOTE: YOU MUST HAVE PURCHASED ITEMS WHICH WERE LATER DISABLED OR REMOVED TO PARTICIPATE IN THIS LEGAL ACTION!

About the Legal Action: Our current mission objectives are as follows:

The return of all mature content which is not in violation of copyright/trademark laws; Our own Adult World, a separate region or neighborhood of IMVU accessible only to age-verified adults who have purchased the AP; The removal of the ability of AP holders to perform AP actions on non-AP members; The creation of a new 'intimate' relationship category, which must be entered into by both parties before intimate actions can be performed; Possibly separate districts within the adult community, where adult interest regions such as gay, BSDM, etc, are organized, so that adult members will not view pages of members that they may find offensive or of no interest to them. The mature catalog should also be organized in this manner.

Why will we be able to accomplish these objectives? Various legal precedents are being set around the world in relation to internet communities such as IMVU, that are only strengthening our case. Because companies such as IMVU are selling virtual products for real money, the courts are declaring that the TOS of such companies must be held to a much higher standard than they have been in the past. Virtual properties, whether virtual land, avatars, accessories or whatever are essentially all the same, and being purchased with real money, the companies which sell them are being held accountable for these items just as if they were real. If you bought a car and a month later, the car dealer comes around and says, "Sorry, that car wasn't supposed to be on the lot," do you think they could take it away or disable it? The tactics which IMVU has used, willingly or unwillingly allowing mature items to be sold and purchased from their catalog while gearing up for the teen market definitely falls under 'bait and switch' laws, and 'solicitation with intent to defraud laws' in most jurisdictions. Speaking of jurisdictions, international courts are declaring that while an internet company such as IMVU may reside in the jurisdiction of California, they will be held subject to the jurisdiction in which

any customer who signs up and pays a fee resides. Accepting cash from a customer in any jurisdiction constitutes doing business in that jurisdiction, thus they are subject the laws of the customer's jurisdiction. So, I hope the above points make it clear why we have a very good chance of accomplishing our mission objectives.

Continuing Action: 1. Continue to spread the Word! Get the Magic sticker at the top right hand corner of my page, and place it on your page. This sticker will notify you of any updates to this page. Keep an eye on it! It will change now and then! It will work as the Jonnyteam Broadcast System. Give the sticker to those who cannot afford it, but are supportive of the cause. All of the credits from the sale of the sticker will be used to continue to spread the word, by gifting stickers and perhaps shout-outs. 2. I have also placed code below. Just copy and paste the code into any CSS box on your page to display the image and link. Developer team members can place the code on their most popular product pages to help spread the word. This is an excellent way to get the word out! 3. After the win in Australia's higher courts, orchestrated by Dr. Martin, and the smaller court, orchestrated by Troypot, we will stage the same event in California, which is the legal jurisdiction of IMVU . Our case will be even stronger there, as the precedent will have been previously set by our actions in Australia. Whether or not we attack in the higher or lower courts of CA remains to be seen. If IMVU chooses to honor the verdicts of the Australian courts, it may not be necessary.

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