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FTC Tackles Safety in Virtual Worlds, Internet Consumerism

The Federal Trade Commission has been busy tackling some of the Internet safety challenges facing children.

The commission recently released a report examining the accessibility of inappropriate content on the Web. The report, called "Virtual Worlds and Kids: Mapping the Risks" examines the sexual and violent content of virtual worlds. It found that although child-oriented virtual worlds contained minimal objective content, kids could easily access explicit content on sites geared towards teens and adults. Out of the 27 simulated environments that the FTC explored, 19 contained some sort of inappropriate content for children.

To keep children from accessing explicit material in virtual worlds, the report suggests that site operators:

- employ effective age-screening mechanisms to prevent children from joining;

- implement age-segregation techniques to ensure that people interact with others only in their age group;

- evaluate language filters to make sure they are effective;

- provide guidance and information to community enforcers in virtual worlds to keep users safe' and

- keep a staff of trained moderators who can quickly address any rule violations.

Also related to cyber safety and awareness: A colleague forwarded me an article in The Consumerist about a game created by the FTC to teach kids more about consumerism.

The flash-based game takes place in a mall, where each area teaches kids about a different aspect of shopping. For instance, at the security plaza, kids learn about protecting their identity and securing private information, while at the food court they can find out about business competition and the principles of supply and demand.

A review of the game says that it can be "a little too goofy and light on detail" at some points—a challenge that most educational games struggle with—but overall the game does a good job of introducing consumerist subjects to kids.

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