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Metaverse uses hundreds of employees and contractors to monitor websites for clients including virtual world Second Life, Time Warner’s Warner Brothers and the PBS public television service.
Metaverse Chief Executive Amy Pritchard said that in five years her staff only intercepted something terrifying once, about a month ago, when a man on a discussion board for a major media company was asking for the email address of a young site user.
Sulake said it had kept 225 moderators and is still investigating what went wrong.
The failures at Skout and Habbo shocked child-safety experts and technology professionals, who fear they will lead to a renewed panic about online safety that is not justified by the data.
They can also alienate some of a site’s target audience — especially teen users who expect more freedom of expression.
While many top sites catering to young children are quite vigilant, the same can’t be said for the burgeoning array of online options for the 13- to 18-year-old set.
Filters and moderators are essential for a clean experience, said Claire Quinn, safety chief at a smaller site aimed at kids and young teens, Wee World.
But the programs and people cost money and can depress ad rates.
Most sex crimes against children are committed by people the children know, rather than strangers.
Sites that operate with such software still should have one professional on safety patrol for every 2,000 users online at the same time, said Sacramento-based Metaverse Mod Squad, a moderating service.
At that level the human side of the task entails “months and months of boredom followed by a few minutes of your hair on fire,” said Metaverse Vice President Rich Weil.
Under a 1998 law known as COPPA, for the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, sites directed at those 12 and under must have verified parental consent before collecting data on children.
Some sites go much further: Disney’s Club Penguin offers a choice of viewing either filtered chat that avoids blacklisted words or chats that contain only words that the company has pre-approved.
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“There are companies out there that are doing a very good job, working within the confines of what they have available,” said Brooke Donahue, a supervisory special agent with an FBI team devoted to Internet predators and child pornography.