Kids gaming platform Roblox faces hurdles ahead of public listing

Roblox

Profanities and other offensive content that basic word-filtering tools are made to catch can be discovered in certain game titles and user profiles on children’s gaming system Roblox, searches of the website show, regardless of the company’s “no tolerance” policy and assurances it has safeguards to enforce it.

Powered by user-created games, Roblox filed Thursday for a multibillion-dollar stock market introduction, riding the lockdown entertainment boom with its appeal for a location for safe interactions and fun for the youngest gamers.

But parenting groups and investors said they were concerned about whether the organization’s automated systems to medium content can effectively delete potentially offensive language and graphics that pop up to the stage.

Straightforward Google keyword searches of its own site – conducted since the company declared its stock exchange plans in October – switched up more than 100 examples of violent language or imagery. 1 profile, as an example, comprised “shut up and rape me daddy” in the profile description line, while the other had “MOLESTINGKIDSISFUNTOME.”

In answer to written inquiries, company spokeswoman Teresa Brewer said in a declaration that Roblox “has no tolerance for inappropriate content, which is why we have a stringent safety system, including proprietary text filtering technology, third-party machine learning solutions, and customized rules on what to block, which we update daily.”

Last month, Roblox eliminated the illustrations within hours of Reuters sharing them with the company. Roblox has stated it’s 1,600 individuals working full time to eliminate inappropriate content on the platform.

In the stock registration registered after this story was printed, the company acknowledged that “from time to time inappropriate content is successfully uploaded onto our platform and can be viewed by others prior to being identified and removed by us” and was a “risk factor.”

Related Article:
Nintendo digital subscriptions soar driven by 'Animal Crossing' fans

“This content could cause harm to our audience and to our reputation of providing a safe environment,” the company wrote of the prior concern.

Roblox provides account controls for parents to limit how their children can interact with other people on the site. It also lets parents restrict the kid to a curated list of games vetted for youngsters under the age of 13. Journalists at our partner news agency Thomson Reuters didn’t locate any inappropriate content on these games.

All websites that rely on users to create content should grapple with how much effort to expend policing that content, and even if that’s enormous, there could still be inappropriate articles. Unlike Twitter and Facebook Inc , which release quarterly transparency reports about the forms and volumes of purged content, Roblox does not offer such data. That makes it tough to tell how common it is.

Roblox is a free platform that offers millions of matches, a lot of them developed by its own young users via a simple programming application that the company provides. It has been credited with developing children’ logic and creativity. Like Microsoft Corp’s Minecraft, Roblox allows users to create and share 3D gaming content via simple tools and send messages to others.

The simplicity of many Roblox games stands in contrast to popular videogame hits like Fortnite or Apex Legends, which depict killing competitions and target teens. Roblox adviser Larry Magid said that three quarters of US children between nine and 12 used the platform.

Related Article:
Sony sees software subscription as future for data-analysing image sensors

However, the Google search showed that kids could see the problematic profiles and descriptions in a variety of ways, including through friend invitations and group activities.

Most of the examples we found on Roblox included deliberate misspelling of obscenities, or the n-word, which industry veterans say should not make it past standard filtering software.

NBC reported last year that it found neo-Nazi and racist profiles on the site, which Roblox later removed.

Yet early this year, an industry expert who asked not to be named, sent Roblox head of safety Remy Malan a dozen examples of games with racial slurs or the word “Jew” in the title, including some with concentration camp uniforms or other imagery, according to screen shots of the email seen by Reuters.

The examples were confirmed by Reuters and dated as far back as 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 lifted its suggested age for Roblox players to 13 years old over the last few years, after abusive language in profiles and sexual content in games kept appearing on Roblox after the company said it would remove it, according to Jeff Haynes, who oversees video gaming coverage for the non-profit.

Five online safety experts who reviewed the examples found by journalists said they were surprised such profiles and wording managed to slip through when rudimentary filtering systems can catch and remove such content.

Related Article:
App Store chief says Apple aimed to level playing field

Magid, a Roblox advisor and CEO of the non-profit ConnectSafely.org – which takes funding from Roblox and other companies to promote safety guidelines for parents – said the examples Reuters had found showed the safeguards did not fully work.

“I believe scale is part of it. What I do not understand is why the applications didn’t pick this up,” he told journalists at our partner news agency Reuters.

As its stock listing draws near, the company could come under closer public scrutiny from Wall Street, said John Streur, CEO of Calvert Research and Management, which focuses on socially responsible investing.

“From an investor perspective, it will be a significant issue if the headlines months from now reveal that the company is not able to manage the risk of its stage,” Streur told journalists. Roblox declined to respond to comment on that view.

The team at Platform Executive hope you have enjoyed this news article. Initial reporting via our official content partners at Thomson Reuters. Reporting by Joseph Menn in San Francisco and Munsif Vengattil in Bengaluru. Editing by Patrick Graham, Tomasz Janowski, Edward Tobin and Rosalba O’Brien.

Stay on top of the latest developments across the platform economy and gain access to our problem-solving tools, proprietary databases and content sets by becoming a premium member. Subscription plans start at under $7 per month.

Share This Post