MullenLowe MENA and Mobily created a headset that protects young gamers from predators by making them sound older. Using cutting-edge, voice-modifying technology, the product helps stave off child abusers acting in gaming platforms and raise awareness about the issue worldwide.
A huge spike in children playing online games during the pandemic is seeing experts and charities warn that tighter restrictions need to be put in place to protect kids online ahead of this year’s Safer Internet Day.
This follows news of over 15,000 reports of online child abuse from the public in September 2020 alone – a record-breaking month according to the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF). What’s more, the Breck Foundation has reported its highest ever month of calls from worried parents into its call centre, alongside the NSPCC charity finding that 1,220 online grooming offences against children occurred in just three months of lockdown last year.
In the MENA region, there is believed to be more than 100 million gamers anticipated to play video games such as Fortnite and Apex Legends, and with children spending more time in their rooms and online due to the pandemic, over 74 per cent of parents say they are worried about their child’s safety online. That’s according to new research released today from Mobily Esports that shows that half of parents in the region are unaware of who their children are gaming with when they’re online – with many parents worried about the threat of online predators.
A fifth of parents in the Middle East and North Africa believe their child speaks to strangers 2-3 times a week, with over 20 per cent also saying they believe their child speaks to people they don’t know every day. The true extent is of course unknown, and whilst for the vast majority of the time gaming is a fun and safe activity, with little regulation, experts and charities are calling for parents to remain vigilant and report any causes for concern.
This is against the backdrop of the gaming industry in the MENA region alone is estimated to be worth 4.5 billion (USD), due in part to the release of new gaming technology on the market (PS5, new video games) and social distancing measures imposed by governments seeking to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic. This is leading to children’s internet time being rapidly increased and also millions of kids from around the world, talking into their headsets.
Experts are warning that online predators are taking advantage of this situation to actively contact, target and coerce children online presenting “a grave and widespread threat”.
One way in particular that kids are being targeted is through the use of popular multiplayer video games such as Fornite, Minecraft and APEX Legends, where users can connect and speak with people from anywhere in the world, including complete strangers. Experts point out that predators often try to groom children through gifts such as gaming currency like Minecraft coins, Fortnight V-bucks leading down a path to eventually sending explicit photos online. In early December, 120,000 parents signed a petition by ParentsTogether, to call on Microsoft to “protect kids from the pandemic of sexual predators” on Minecraft. As the Covid pandemic has intensified, little has been done to resolve the issues and the problem is only increasing across all forms of online gaming.
For most parents, historically they have worried less about who their kids are playing with and more about the content of the games. But now more than ever, children’s privacy and security online are becoming increasingly prominent concerns among parents when it comes to online gaming, according to new findings from Mobily eSports, released in the lead up to the 18th edition of Safer Internet Day (9th February 2021).
To raise awareness around the urgent need to properly educate parents on the potential dangers of unsupervised online gaming, Mobily eSports, in partnership with Mullen Lowe MENA, has created the Protectset to make safety a priority in every home. This pioneering voice‐changing technology is designed to help children stay safe while gaming online, by masking their true age by making them sound older.
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