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Defender of the Realms

Crisp Thinking's Adam Hildreth on why NetModerator can help keep kids safe in Sony's Free Realms

Sony Online Entertainment's Free Realms has taken the children's MMO scene by storm, notching up huge numbers of players within weeks of launching. But protecting children online is an increasingly important topic, and following this morning's announcement that the game would integrate NetModerator, spoke to the software's developer to find out more about the issues.

Here, Crisp Thinking's founder and president Adam Hildreth explains the concerns and how NetModerator works to address them. What are the main causes for concern when it comes to protecting children online?
Adam Hildreth

The main concerns stem from the sheer numbers in social environments today - many millions and growing every day. That means there are a massive number of ongoing conversations. When you combine that with children's innate vulnerability - they can't judge risk in a way an adult can; the stress factors on moderators; the shortcomings of many moderation tools and the adaptability of online predators - you end up with a potentially dangerous situation.

The problem doesn't start and end with online predators, either. Children can be manipulated and harmed even by their peers. Cyber-bulling, griefing and vulgarity are key issues and that's before you throw child predators into the mix. Although most children will never encounter any problems, it's hard to overstate the potential dangers.

At Crisp, we did a survey of moderating staff globally in November 2008 and found that a third had reported a case of online child abuse; 45 per cent had reported a suspected suicide issue and 40 per cent had reported child safety issues to the authorities. According to statistics from the United States there are 50,000 predators online and abusers manage to target one child in every five. When you look at these figures and add to them that 22 per cent of live chat moderators in our survey said they are responsible for more than 5000 concurrent users at one time during peak periods and they handle more than 50 violations of website conduct in a one hour shift, you've got to be concerned. So why did Sony choose Crisp for Free Realms?
Adam Hildreth

Sony is leading the way in the MMO explosion. Child safety is a top priority for them and Free Realms is a groundbreaking game. They wanted the best moderating system and NetModerator is just that - the best software available. It's a solid, stable, proven system that’s scalable and accurate. In independent tests undertaken by Cambridge University in the UK, NetModerator proved 98.4 per cent accurate in its detection rates. How did the deal come about - did Sony get in touch, or did you approach Sony?
Adam Hildreth

Well, we're passionate about safety. It's our job at Crisp to help keep all children safe, on whatever game they play or environment they're in. We're determined to get our system into as many online environments as possible and make no apology for this. We're bullish about Net Moderator because it works, Right now, today, it's keeping children safer than they would otherwise be.

So we've been working with all the major players for quite some time and the Sony deal was the logical conclusion of a joint effort. Sony put child safety at the top of their agenda, just like we do, so it's a perfect partnership. How does NetModerator work then?
Adam Hildreth

It's a highly intelligent system which we've developed over many years and basically it provides total control and scalability. Installing NetModerator is the only way to ensure that massive volumes of traffic can be analysed accurately, acted upon instantly and monitored over the long term by the current, or even a reduced, number of moderating staff.

So essentially it's an intuitive single system solution comprised of three technological components: the Engine for Content-Analysis (ECA) and the Engine for Relationship Analysis (ERA) seek out the full range of inappropriate behaviours and the Real-time Message Filter (RMF) enables communities to censor or block inappropriate content before it reaches its intended recipient.

It's the only system available that can monitor and store all communications, analyse ongoing conversations between individuals over time, decode content and understand its true meaning. It also blocks in real-time and alerts moderators to threats including self-harm, cyber-bullying and online predators in the short, medium and long term. Why are you so confident it's a technology that help solve the problem?
Adam Hildreth

Because our software has proven itself over and over again in independent tests. As I said, NetModerator has proven to be 98 per cent accurate in identifying and catching problems, which is an amazing figure. But more than this, we've got the evidence of our client companies, which include Cartoon Network/FusionFall, Reel FX, SuperSecret and now Sony Online Entertainment.

They're pleased with NetModerator because it helps them keep children safe; they can see its working for them today. They also know that, with NetModerator, for the first time, their moderating staff have a fighting chance of catching issues before they become a real danger.

But - we're far from complacent. We've never been a company that sits back and says: "Okay, job done." Online predators are clever. The way they operate is becoming more sophisticated. They keep developing new techniques. This is a fight between them and us - although we're going to win...