26 September 2023

Parents urged to protect kids at Christmas

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Parents and carers across the country are being urged to read the fine print before buying children’s Christmas gifts that open access to virtual worlds.

Launching eSafety’s Christmas Gift Guide, eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant said that while immersive devices – like virtual reality headsets and haptic gloves – could unlock new and fantastical experiences, they could also expose children to a range of harms.

“Our research shows that around one in five young people surveyed who have engaged in immersive or ‘metaverse’ environments have experienced something that made them feel unsafe,” Ms Inman Grant said.

“Immersive tech, such as VR headsets and haptic technology, drastically increases the realness of an online experience, making the impact of cyberbullying or abuse far more visceral,” she said.

“On top of that, many of these worlds can enable your child to interact with total strangers in private spaces.”

Ms Inman Grant said she wanted parents and carers to maximise these immersive experiences with their kids while ensuring they were not unintentionally inviting virtual predators into their homes or opening up worlds that promoted harmful ideas or gory content.

She said the Gift Guide set out a checklist of safety and privacy issues for parents to consider before purchasing new technology.

“While some services have taken important steps to help keep children safe, read up on specific risks and safeguards of each device, game or app you plan to purchase,” the Commissioner said.

“New wearables have the potential to collect extensive biometric information, so check the privacy features and see what information is being collected, who it’s being shared with and what features can be disabled.”

She said the Guide would help parents and carers understand what parental controls were built into potential tech gifts.

“We also strongly recommend choosing age and developmentally-appropriate immersive landscapes and setting virtual boundaries between your child and other players to prevent simulated assault,” Ms Inman Grant said.

eSafety’s Gift Guide can be accessed at this PS News link.

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