Online 3D repository Sketchfab has changed their policies and now permits only adults aged 18 or over to participate.
Sketchfab is a well-known online repository of 3D models and scenes, and is often used to share 3D printable content. The site provides ways to embed 3D content into websites, and has grown significantly over the years.
This week the company issued this notice:
The minimum age to use Sketchfab will be 18 as of January 3, 2023.
What will I need to do?
This change will affect me—what happens to my account?
If you are under 18 years of age, your account will be closed. If you have any models on the site, you will no longer have access to them on the site.”
The are enabling features to allow for models to be downloaded for those younger than 18 who must now abandon the site.
Sketchfab provided no explanation for why this policy change has taken place. However, it is quite likely it has to do with access to adult-oriented content that may be uploaded by Sketchfab users. Sketchfab may be positioning themselves in a way to avoid lawsuits and legal troubles in the future.
In fact, the service also raised the minimum participation age without parental consent from 13 to 16 only last year. The upcoming change pushes that all the way to 18 years.
Curiously, Sketchfab personal profiles do not have an age or birthdate section, so there is likely no way for Sketchfab to determine which users are underage, aside from a personal declaration. This suggests this move is entirely for legal reasons.
For those Sketchfab users “almost” 18 years old, this is a lot of trouble: 3D models will have to be downloaded, stored, and then re-uploaded later with a new adult account. I suspect many in that situation may not even bother. Some may also lose their content in the process.
The ability to embed Sketchfab contents into websites may also pose a problem. Consider a scenario where a website has embedded a 3D scene, but the embed disappears when the underage owner removes their account. This would affect Sketchfab users beyond the underage users.
This confusion will no doubt cause some Sketchfab members, both underage and not, to migrate to alternative 3D sharing platforms, and I’ve already seen pointers to them in Sketchfab online communities. That’s bad news for Sketchfab, as those who have moved and become 18 are very unlikely to move back to Sketchfab. Sketchfab may have lost these customers forever.
There’s one more point here.
If Sketchfab has taken this step, they must be doing so for reasons that they’ve discussed and agreed to internally. Perhaps their legal team has advised this step to be taken, for example.
If Sketchfab did this, would the same reasoning apply to other online 3D content repositories? Would we suddenly see Cults, Thingiverse and Printables kick out all users not aged at least 18?
If that were to happen, it would be a dramatic blow to countless teenagers and children who have been learning 3D design and storing their works online to share with others.
I can’t think of a more damaging step that could be taken to disrupt the 3D print learning process among children and students.
Repositories worldwide, do not do this.