Kids and Internet Safety: MMOs and Online Play

Kids and Internet Safety: MMOs and Online Play

Family Tech

Technology for parents & kids: Hints, tips, online safety strategies & more.

While online virtual worlds are an incredibly popular way to have fun with friends on the Internet in a seemingly trustworthy environment, the truth is that there are a number of potential concerns and dangers that parents and users of all ages should be aware of.

The European Network and Information Security Agency (ENISA) reports that the biggest concerns for parents about virtual worlds for both kids (7 an under) and tweens (8 to 12) is online safety and exposure to online predators.

This is made possible due to the very social nature of these virtual worlds, which are essentially forms of social networks for kids with more of an emphasis on graphics than words.

Common Concerns

Going beyond general online safety fears, key concerns parents have about virtual worlds from the ENISA report include:

–          Exposure to harmful or illegal content, such as pornography or gambling

–          Interaction with ill-intentioned adults masquerading as children

–          Identity theft

–          Health issues related to spending too much time on computer and not enough time outside

–          Unauthorized spending

While these are all legitimate concerns, all reputable virtual world sites take steps to prevent misuse or abuse by users which parents should be aware of.

For starters, any service aimed at kids age 13 and under must be compliant with the U.S.’s stringent COPPA regulations, designed to protect the online privacy of minors.

The creators of these sites that are used by kids also offer many parental control options via a parental control panel, which also can generate usage reports and monitoring about not only how long kids are playing, but what types of activities they are participating in.

And because gamers in these virtual worlds are always connected online, the game’s developers can track and record every movement, interaction and purchase that gamers do while online.  Companies do this not necessarily with the player’s best interest in mind, but rather to be able to better tune and enhance their worlds based on how players are using them.  But for parents concerned about online safety, this practice is a nice consequence. 

It is definitely worth noting though that for those parents more concerned about online privacy that are lax to share ANY information about their children, obviously you’re giving up some anonymity by participating in virtual worlds, even if the data collected can’t be connected to your specific children.

A Bit More About Chat in Virtual Worlds

A key part of these online virtual worlds is also the chat function. There are many solutions available to help prevent unwanted and undesired contact from others.

There are two ways that chat can be moderated in virtual worlds.  The first is by controlling which other users players can interact with, and the second involves the types of communication they can engage in.

As a basic option, many virtual worlds offer “restricted chat.” This means that not only are users restricted to talking with others on their dual-approved friend list, but there are also limited, pre-written chat options for them to use.

Older kids may be allowed more chat freedom, but most virtual worlds still have a list of words they will not allow, as well as restrict interactions with others.

And nearly all have live, human moderators that are on hand roaming the world to watch out for any bad or questionable behavior, or who can immediately respond should you click the handy and usually prominent “report” button.

Other Tips for Keeping Kids Safe in Virtual Worlds

The US government has a website at OnGuardOnline.gov that offers many online safety tips, including those specific to virtual worlds.  Among the recommendations are for parents to check out online destinations themselves and engage in specific conversations about how and when they’ll be visiting these virtual worlds.

Parents can also look for third-party certifications on sites such as the TrustE online privacy Trustmark, the kidSAFE Seal or the FamilyFriendlyVideoGames.com Seal of Approval.  All of these indicate that the site has been checked out by a third-party for safety, privacy and other concerns.

While we looked at earlier at a basic introduction to online virtual worlds, next we’ll take a look at many of the key terms and details in our top 10 terms for online virtual worlds.

5 Essential Apps for Parents

10 December, 2012 Life No comments
5 Essential Apps for Parents

While the kitchen may still be the physical hub for the family, more and more families are taking advantage of the power of smartphones to help them stay on top of their family life.

According to the mobile security experts at Lookout, nearly 2/3 of parents with 5 or more in the family consider the smartphone to be the mobile command center of the family.  Nearly half use it to coordinate grocery lists and entertained, as well as keep their kids entertained.

As fun as they are, Angry Birds and Words with Friends won’t get everyone to soccer practice on time, so here’s our list of five essential apps for parents to help them stay in control of their family.

Cozi – Cozi’s an app that can do a little bit of everything for your family.  With calendars, shopping lists, to-do lists ad more that sync across all your family devices, there’s no excuse for anyone to say they didn’t know where they supposed to be.  This means that if you add to the shopping list from your device at home, your husband will have it updated in real-time, even if he’s at the store. You can also log onto your Cozi account on the computer to update and track information from there. Cozi can also send out e-mail and text reminders for any event, if you want them.

Kik Messenger – A program like Kik Messenger or another messaging program is great for families to be able to stay in touch without worrying about racking up the texting minutes.  What sets them apart from using your phone’s regular messaging capabilities is the ability to easily add other people to conversations as well as add photos directly to a dialogue. Kik Messenger also works across all different types of devices, so it’s especially handy for families in which not everyone has the same type of phone.

Find My iPhone – While ostensibly designed to help find lost smartphones or remotely erase data in case it gets stolen, Apple’s app (and an equivalent Android app such as Andriod Lost) is great for giving parents piece of mind that they can track their kids by using their phones.  With these apps installed, you can make sure your kids are where they say they are by viewing their location on an app.  The safety feature

A Family Matters – While it’s tempting during downtime for everyone to get lost in their own devices, the A Family Matters app makes using a smartphone a family affair, with games and activities designed for everyone to participate in.  So whether you’re at a restaurant waiting for food or at the theater waiting for the movie to start, A Family Matters is an app that can actually bring your whole clan together, and for that we think it’s essential.

Lost Kidz – Heaven forbid something should happen to your kid, but if it does then the Lost Kidz app can act like an APB to everyone else in your vicinity running the app.  If your kid disappears, you can send out an immediate alert to all users in the area to notify them.  A second alert will go out even wider.  It’s horrible to think of worst-case scenarios, but if something bad does happen, an app like Lost Kidz can help make sure you’re prepared.

5 Reasons to Start Your Own Business

4 December, 2012 Work No comments
5 Reasons to Start Your Own Business

In this tricky economy, it feels like the average worker is constantly teetering on the precipice—a mere shove from falling into a pit seething with wolves. There honestly hasn’t been a better time to consider giving up your corporate obligations and striking out on your own. Of course, talk is cheap and the real world is merciless, but there really are a lot of good reasons why you should start your own business. 

Working for yourself and/or starting up your own business can be tricky, but when you hold up the advantages to the current state of your life, you may discover that the benefits actually outweigh the risk. Besides, controlling your destiny is immensely rewarding. Here are five good reasons to start up a business. 

A relatively flexible schedule – When you work for yourself, you’re in command of deciding how your time gets spent—especially if you work from home. This makes running your own business ideal if you have a family. Mind, that’s not to say that you work fewer hours when you run your own business; rather, it means that you can shift your day around to suit your social needs, though that might be a little trickier if you run something like a small store. Regardless, you will no longer be beholden to the typical 9-to-5, a nice change of pace if you dislike predictability. 

There’s no motivation like being your own boss – People that work in the corporate world often complain about being a “cog in the machine.” They’re not often granted a sense of accomplishment, and they don’t always recognize their work in the final product (provided a final product even comes into fruition). But when you work for yourself, you’re directly in charge of what you do, and what you make. It’s extremely fulfilling to finish up a product or an assignment, then lean back and recognize it as your very own work. 

Save money on commuting – Running your own business usually means falling outside the 9-to-5 day, which, in turn, means no more lurching along the highway twice a day during long commutes. You’ll save money on gas and car maintenance—and you’ll feel a lot less stressed out, too. 

You’re responsible for your own security – Full-time jobs and job security are shrinking like so much arctic ice. You can’t depend on your employer for a pension, insurance, or bonuses anymore (certainly not for years at a time, as was the case fifty years ago), so you may as well take your fate into your own hands and run into the fray with all of your passion. 

Do what you love – You’re presumably not going to start a business just to do something you despise, so there’s your number one motivator: If your run your own show, you can do what you love day in and day out. That’s not to say you’ll never have your off days, but running your own show will go a long way to making you a happier camper. 

Need more convincing? Here are more reasons to start up your own business: 

10 Reasons to Start a Business This Year at the Wall Street Journal

Top 10 Reasons to Run Your Own Business at Inc.com

10 Reasons to Start Your Own Business at The Business Insider