Law enforcement officials are warning parents to monitor the games that their young children play on devices in the wake of some troubling allegations involving online predators.
Many popular games come with chat features, which allow users of all ages to communicate in the app.
“Eight, 9, 10, 11, 12 years old – that’s who is playing these games and predators are getting smart about it,” said Rich Wistocki, a veteran detective who now also runs the firms, Juvenile Justice Online and Be Sure Consulting. “Just like you would tell your kids, ‘Don’t talk to strangers (on a playground),’ when it comes to online, don’t let anyone in that you have not verified.”
The warning is timely.
A popular user-generated app called Roblox, which boasts nearly 50 million users a month, has recently come under fire after a parent complained on social media that a pedophile sent his son vile messages on the iPad game’s chat function.
The Canadian Centre for Child Protection also sent out an alert, saying the group has received reports “concerning requests to meet up in person, and/or sexually suggestive chat messages being sent to children under the age of 12 within Roblox.”
And in Louisiana, sheriff’s detectives are investigating a report of chats and pictures exchanged between an 8-year-old boy and an online predator the child met on Roblox.
But Roblox isn’t the only game that comes with a chat feature.
“We talk about Minecraft, Roblox, Musical.ly – it’s like a game with a chat room,” said Wistocki.
In the popular lip-syncing game Musical.ly, new accounts are set to public by default, which means anyone can view videos and send direct messages through the app.
A Musical.ly spokesperson said parents can change user settings and report inappropriate activities.
“We have technology in place that blocks spam and inappropriate content,” a Musical.ly spokesperson said in part. “We strongly encourage parents to monitor their teenager’s account, report inappropriate behavior, and have an open dialogue about responsible and safe behaviors for all online activity.”
Roblox has made changes to the user experience following reports of inappropriate behavior, a spokesperson confirmed. Parents will now be allowed to shut-off chat capability and the accounts of users under 13 years old will be clearly marked, so parents can determine settings that are age appropriate.
“The safety of our community is a top priority, and we’re constantly assessing and improving our trust and safety measures,” a Roblox spokesperson said.
One Lockport mom, who says she deleted her 8-year-old son’s Roblox account after he encountered nude images on the game, told NBC 5 Investigates parents have to be more vigilant now than ever before.
“You have to have a little faith in your kids that they’ll come to you when situations like this arise and have faith in yourself that you can educate yourself on these dangers and be aware of them so you can see and kind of find the warning signals,” said parent Elizabeth Holman.
Resources and company statements
“Helping keep kids safer online is a priority for us at Microsoft and we provide parental controls for Xbox and Windows which help parents choose the content, communication and sharing settings that are right for their families. For many, the most important of these is making sure that your kids are using child accounts which you have control over. To do this on Xbox you can find out more here. We also encourage parents to play an active role in their children’s online activities by doing three important things; use advanced parental control settings available on devices and gaming platforms, talk with kids about their online activities, and set clear household online rules for their families.” – Microsoft Spokesperson
“We take the safety of our users very seriously and we have zero tolerance for inappropriate behavior on our apps. We have technology in place that blocks spam and inappropriate content. Users can report inappropriate activities, and choose who can view their videos and broadcasts and send them messages. It’s easy to flag accounts or report them to firstname.lastname@example.org and we review and terminate accounts that include inappropriate content or otherwise violate our Terms of Service.
We strongly encourage parents to monitor their teenager's account, report inappropriate behavior, and have an open dialogue about responsible and safe behaviors for all online activity.”
The game detailed all of its recent changes in a blog post. Additionally, a spokesperson sent to NBC 5 Investigates:
“Together we want to work with parents and the community to stay vigilant over today’s online landscape and continue to build best practices to avoid negative situations. We want to make sure that all users are aware of the potential challenges and navigate them through it.
This is a priority for us. We want all users to be safe on Roblox, and we will continue to invest in the safety of the game so it is a positive, productive, fun and protected space for our community. We would like to hear from parents if they have questions or suggestions. They can email us at email@example.com.”