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(Please note that paragraph 4 contains language that some readers may find offensive.)
By Munsif Vengattil and Joseph Menn
BANGALORE / SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Profanities and other objectionable content intended to be captured with basic word filtering tools can be found in some game titles and user profiles on the kids game platform Roblox Tolerance Policy and Assurances It has guarantees to enforce it.
Roblox is based on user-created games and is well on its way to a multi-billion dollar stock market debut before the end of the year, fueling the lockdown entertainment boom with its appeal as a safe place for fun and interaction for the youngest players.
However, parenting groups and investors alike expressed concern about whether the company's automated content moderation systems can effectively delete potentially offensive languages and images displayed on the platform.
Simple Google (NASDAQ 🙂 keyword searches on its website, conducted twice by Reuters since the company announced its listing plans in October, found more than 100 examples of abusive language or images. For example, one profile had "Shut up and rape me, Dad" in the profile description line while another had "MOLESTINGKIDSISFUNTOME".
In response to written questions, company spokeswoman Teresa Brewer replied in a statement that Roblox “has no tolerance for inappropriate content, which is why we have a strict security system, including proprietary text filtering technology, third-party machine learning solutions, and custom rules to block what we update daily. "
Last month, Roblox removed the examples within hours after Reuters shared them with the company. According to Roblox, 1,600 employees work full-time to clean up inappropriate content on the platform.
Roblox offers parenting account controls to limit their children's interaction with others on the site. Also, parents can limit the child to a curated list of games that have been reviewed for children under the age of 13. Reuters did not find any inappropriate content related to such games.
Any website that relies on users to create material has to deal with the hassle of monitoring that content, and even if it's huge, it can still result in inappropriate posts. In contrast to Twitter (N 🙂 and Facebook Inc. (O :), who publish quarterly transparency reports on the types and amounts of content deleted, do not provide such data to Roblox. That makes it difficult to tell how common it is.
Roblox is a free platform that offers millions of games, many of which were created by their own young users using a simple programming tool that the company provides. The development of logic and creativity in children has been attributed to it. To like Microsoft Corp. & # 39; s (O 🙂 Minecraft, Roblox allows users to create and share 3D game content with simple tools and send messages to others.
The simplicity of many Roblox games contrasts with popular video game hits like Fortnite or Apex Legends, which depict killing contests and target teenagers. Roblox consultant Larry Magid said three-quarters of US children between the ages of nine and twelve used the platform.
Reuters selected around 20 words that are generally considered offensive and searched them using the website's own search tool, as well as through the Google system to search within a particular website. Roblox's tool didn't reveal any hits as filters prevented users from actively looking for problematic content while playing Roblox games. However, Google search showed that children were able to see the problematic profiles and descriptions in a number of ways, including invitations from friends and group activities.
Most of the examples Reuters found on Roblox were deliberate profanity misspellings or the N-word, which industry veterans say shouldn't go beyond standard filtering software.
NBC reported last year that it found neo-Nazi and racist profiles on the website, which Roblox later removed.
Earlier this year, an industry expert who refused to be named, Roblox security chief Remy Malan sent a dozen examples of games with racial slurs or the word "Jew" in the title, including some with concentration camp uniforms or other images. According to screenshots of the email seen by Reuters.
The examples have been confirmed by Reuters and are from 2009. Some of them were deleted after Reuters described them to Roblox in October. Malan did not respond to the expert or to a Reuters request for comment.
Tech and entertainment watchdog Common Sense Media has raised its recommended age for Roblox players to 13 in the past few years after recurring abuse of language in profiles and sexual content in games on Roblox after the company announced it would be closing remove Jeff Haynes, who oversees video game coverage for nonprofits.
Five online security experts who reviewed the examples found by Reuters said they were surprised that such profiles and wording would get through when rudimentary filtering systems can intercept and remove such content.
Magid, a Roblox consultant and CEO of the ConnectSafely.org nonprofit, which Roblox and other companies sponsored to promote parenting safety guidelines, said the examples Reuters found showed the safety precautions weren't fully working .
"I think scaling is part of it. What I don't understand is why the software didn't include it," he told Reuters.
As the listing nears, the company could face closer public scrutiny from Wall Street, said John Streur, executive director of Calvert Research and Management, which focuses on socially responsible investing.
"From an investor's point of view, it will be a big problem if the headlines show in months that the company cannot manage the risk of its platform," Streur told Reuters. Roblox declined to reply to any comment on this view.