Chat has always been a problematic piece of the Internet where child safety’s concerned – some would say that’s putting it mildly! So it’s a bit surprising that Sony included chat in its new Free Realms virtual world for kids. Online game specialist and blogger Jaime Skelton registered her surprise about this in Examiner.com, saying that Sony’s parental controls allowed parents to restrict what young users could say in chat but not what they could see. She later added a correction: “If you use parental controls to restrict chat to quick chat only, it goes both for what the child says and what the child sees, nor can children [registered as] under 13 see open chat at all.” I would add that qualification in brackets because parents need to be involved in the registration process if they want the parental controls to work properly (they also need to know if a child’s even using the Free Realms world, of course!). This is a great illustration of how parents need to be engaged if they want virtual worlds to be pure kid entertainment. Skelton gives an example of off-topic chat in a screenshot with her post and, in her correction at the bottom, links to an explanation of chat settings in the Free Realms forums (though that’s where anyone can change the settings, including kids, unless parental controls override them). Here’s my post about Free Realms when it launched.
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