GamesBeat

Habbo’s CEO calls for online safety coalition in wake of sex-chat crisis

GamesBeat: Is there any correlation between how much time people put in [Habbo] and whether or not they were part of this 3.7 percent?

LaFontaine: Yes. People who spend more time on the site are less prone to participate in this. What we see is that the people who participate in this kind of inappropriate behavior. They pop in. They make an account. They do their thing. They pop out. Then they pop in with a different account. Which is why we’re moving to a system where we’re stiffening the requirements to make a new account. You have to go through the safety program…. You have to earn your way to free chat. It mitigates this fast move in, fast inappropriate behavior, fast out. We definitely want to look at that behavior cycle. That’s part of what we did to improve the site.

GamesBeat: Is there a particular point whether you decide to go to law enforcement? A repeat offender sort of thing?

LaFontaine: There are understood patterns of behavior that are suspicious. Those are understood by psychologists and by law enforcement. So we sit with law enforcement and we say, tell us the patterns of behavior. When we identify the pattern of behavior, we can flag it. That’s what we do. We have initiated several investigations, and we’re the collaborative partner with law enforcement. We are very clear on how to do that. Our user-care people are trained on what adults who prey on children, how they behave. They go through training on that. They’re able to identify that and verify it through the log once it’s flagged by the software. We have a system in place to handle that.

GamesBeat: Are they able to track some of the offenders, then, across different games and services?

LaFontaine: Depends on law enforcement. Law enforcement has very strict rules around privacy, as you know. So in each jurisdiction, they have a different amount of information that’s appropriate to share. We always start there. We sit down with a law enforcement agency and we say…if we identify suspicious behavior, what is the appropriate way to report? We start from there and work backwards. It varies by jurisdiction.

Habbo 5GamesBeat: On your side, identifying people by IP address, is that a pretty good way to track an offender? If you see an account created by the same IP address….

LaFontaine: It doesn’t always indicate anything specific because there could be a variety of reasons for that. There’s a pattern of behavior that is very clear, and it has nothing to do with dirty chat. That pattern of behavior is…you go to your psychology books, and it lays it out pretty clearly. When you set your software to detect a pattern of behavior that’s very well known in the law-enforcement-psychology community, you can flag it pretty quickly. One of the facts that I’d like to set straight is that we didn’t use software. We used software to a tremendous degree. Our software filtering and the way that we built white lists and built blacklist systems, we’ve done all this. We’re still going to partner with a software vendor, that we’ll announce very shortly, to continue to make sure we have the best software available. That software layer has always been very important to the company, and it remains so. There was a bit of a discussion about large numbers of users just running around in a circle, that’s totally not true. We’ve always used software, back to 2003, when we developed our first filtering system.

GamesBeat: It still sounds like there’s not quite a perfect software, a perfect system.

LaFontaine: No. There’s no silver-bullet solution. The combination of community, software, and then your judicial system, if you will, has to rest on the community. A community of young children with adults looking over their shoulders is going to have a different system than a community of teens who specifically don’t enjoy having adults looking over their shoulders. A 13-plus set is going to have a different approach than anyone else. Our community is unique in its enjoyment, so we have to have a system that responds to that.

GamesBeat: Is that industry changing much, or otherwise being very proactive here? Is it consistently improving?

LaFontaine: They are. We sit on the EU CEO Coalition for Child Safety. It’s a group of companies and CEOs who signed off on a charter saying, we’re going to adhere to five areas of improvement. We were one of the early members of that. I was just at a meeting there a month ago. The really big topic on everyone’s mind is imagery and how imagery is uploaded into the Internet, certainly creating protections around that. Most of the software solutions that I’ve seen, just anecdotally…there’s a lot of discussion around software solutions that go in that direction. Well, Habbo, we have no imagery. We don’t allow any imagery, specifically because that’s an area where we want to make sure we maintain absolute control. In Habbo, the only expressions are movement and chat. When those services that allow uploading photos, for example…that’s a very big area relative to moderating, controlling the imagery.

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