Mar 09 2008

They grow up so quickly: Club Penguin

Published by at 2:21 pm under Simple Security

Friday evening my oldest son asked me “Dad, can I join Club Penguin?” I’d heard of Club Penguin before, when Jeremiah Owyang had written it up, but I really didn’t give it much thought after that. It’s a social media/virtual world for children ages six to fourteen owned an managed by Disney. So when my son asked if he could join, I clenched my teeth and told him I’d talk to his mother about it. Little did I know at the time that she’d already told him to talk to me. I was tense about it, because I knew I couldn’t let my eight-year-old participate in this social networking tool unless I let my six-year-old play too.

I did some research this morning on Club Penguin, starting with their “Parents of Penguins” page and moving on to a Google Search. I wasn’t able to find any truly negative reviews, though a few borderline examples did exist. What I found out is that Club Penguin is a social media experiment started by three fathers in Canada and then purchased by Disney. They heavily monitor activity on the site, there are language filters in place and I, as the parent, have control over their accounts. As much as I wish I could have found something that would have allowed me to say no to them, it just isn’t there to be found.

The sign up process is fairly simple and Club Penguin has a pretty good privacy policy. There are two types of accounts you can sign up for, one free and the other for $5.95 a month. I’m not currently willing to spend $12 a month between the two boys for something they may or may not still be playing in a month, so I signed them both up for free accounts. The main differences seem to be the ability to have more pets and accumulate more coins to buy in-game clothes and decorations. If they get good grades this semester, signing up for the pay-for version may be in the cards, but I think the wife and I will have to talk about that in greater detail.

The sign up process was fairly simple and basically just required a valid email address to send the account activation code to. I think this is a weak point of the system because there’s no verification that the email account belongs to an adult, but in my kids case, they don’t have email yet. There are a number of good, common sense hints on the Player Safety page, such as “Don’t use your real name for your account name.” As part of the account creation process you’re asked if you want to allow your children to use Standard Safe Chat or Ultimate Safe Chat. I allowed my older son to have the standard while I placed my youngest son in the Ultimate category. Using the Ultimate Safe Chat, the parent has a password that must be typed in to change to Standard Safe Chat. Both of these have decent filters, but several articles state they can be gotten around using some of the standard schemes, like putting spaces between the letters. I haven’t tested this yet.

Each of the boys got their own accounts with names they made up with a little help and they got to choose their own penguins. They each have a password that exceeds the site’s minimum requirements and I made each brother leave the room when we were typing in the other boy’s password. We sat down and discussed what is appropriate behavior online and what is not. I guess I’ve talked about it enough in the past because they both knew that telling anyone their real name, phone number or address is a no-no, which makes me feel I’m doing my job. We then came up with three rules for using Club Penguin and added a fourth while they were playing. We wrote out the rules, posted them on the wall next to their computer and let them go at it for an hour. I let my youngest play on my Mac Book Pro and they finally found each other and started to throw snowballs at each other online. Everything in Club Penguin is Flash-based, happens in the browser and works fine on the MBP in Firefox, after I approved it in No-Script.

My boys are growing up and I’m sure this is only the first social media/virtual reality tool they’ll want to use. They already play a version of Pokemon online using the Wii, which is why the know the rule about not telling anyone their real name. But the Pokemon game is just battling other Pokemon masters (Why, oh why do I actually know what they’re called?) where as Club Penguin was created from the start up to be a social space. The tools to do this are only going to get more complex, easier to use and, I assume, more integrated with standard web pages, making it harder to distinguish when you’re in the social space. I hope I’m giving them the right grounding to be able to understand what’s acceptable and what’s not online.

As much as I’m cautious about Club Penguin, I know it’s safer than letting them go to the park at the end of the street. There are more automated safeguards in Club Penguin than there ever be at the park. But as Bruce Schneier sometimes points out, we tend to place more weight on the dangers we don’t understand than the ones we know and deal with on a daily basis.

Our four rules for Club Penguin, posted on the wall next to the computer:

  1. Club Penguin is a privilege, not a right
  2. The door to your room has to be open or you have to play Club Penguin on a computer in the common area
  3. Tell Mommy or Daddy immediately if anyone asks you for your real name, address or phone number.
  4. No logging into your brother’s account!!

Have I missed anything major? I’ll be sure to post if there are any major updates.

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19 responses so far

19 Responses to “They grow up so quickly: Club Penguin”

  1. raffion 09 Mar 2008 at 5:30 pm

    Martin,

    I’m with you on that. We had a similar discussion at our house regarding Webkinz. The only chat with their cousins after they confirm their online pet names over the phone, etc. I haven’t allowed them to have a computer in their own rooms yet (My oldest is 11) which helps.

    One loophole were computers at their friends’ houses. Hopefully they are teaching their friends about online safety as I instill in them and my nephews in nieces, but I can’t count on that, so our rule is that if the computer is not in the common area of their friends’ house, they’re told to ask to do something else. All I can do is trust them.

    The toughest thing for us to filter (not with tools) has been youtube, especially on my phone. You can type in Spongebob and get a rap song (full lyrics and all) with the cartoon going.

    One of the first blog posts I had done last year was on this subject, heading into the summer months.

  2. Lizon 09 Mar 2008 at 9:31 pm

    Club Penguin is such an amazing boon to me. I am a grandmother and can play with my far distant grandchildren. A telephone call “Grandma will you come and play?” I write to say that when you want to play with your youngest son, or he is older, you can alter the ultimate chat feature. If you send me an e-mail I will tell you how. There are 3 parties coming up with freebies and alterations to scenery, each fortnight there is a card badge to find, each Thursday a newspaper on screen with news … and joint player games coming. Warning, if you pay membership, you lose all clothes, igloo furniture and membership items when you stop paying. Out of storage, when you pay again! Another website, for older children, keep in mind Dizzywood. I play that with 10 year old. Now that is challenging and awesome once someone tells you what to do! Skateboarding, levitation, invisibility, growing plants … great awesome fun. Liz

  3. Martinon 10 Mar 2008 at 5:08 am

    Raffi,

    I’m glad they’re into Club Penguin and not Webkinz yet. My oldest is starting to get into Pokemon cards in a big way and I don’t think I make enough to support too many different addictions in my kids. My own are bad enough.

    This all comes down to teaching our kids the right things and hoping they remember them when it comes to the real world. My son only goes over to one friends house at this point in time and I’m not even sure they have a computer, so I’m not too worried. But then he’s 8, not 11 and there’s a big difference between the two ages.

    Some of what I’ve seen my sons pull up in YouTube while doing Pokemon research is pretty iffy, so I’m not looking forward to the next couple of years and the next big thing. I don’t want to be an ogre looking over the kids shoulder all the time, but I’m thinking some sort of web filter is in the future at my house.

    Martin

  4. Martinon 10 Mar 2008 at 5:19 am

    Liz,

    It’s great to hear such a positive use for Club Penguin. I’ll have to suggest that to my mother-in-law who lives 500 miles away and is coming down for a ‘grandkid fix’ this week. I’m sure I’ll be hearing all about the upcoming events and I already made the mistake of offering to purchase a membership if the kids get good report cards, which are coming out this Friday.

    I’m sure this is just the first of many online addictions. They are their father’s sons after all.

    Martin

  5. Liamon 10 Mar 2008 at 6:54 am

    On missing rules:

    Don’t tell what town you live in. (if a mid to small town)
    [I'm from NYC isn't going to help a stalker, but the towns around me have only one school at each level]

    Don’t tell what school you go to (really big one)
    [Again, if the town name isn't included, there may be a large number to choose from, but some of our local schools have unique enough names that there are only two hits in google.]

    Never talk about whether you are ever home alone

    I think that’s all I would add. It absolutely %^*$%s that you have to make these rules, but that’s the way the world is.

  6. mesagirlon 10 Mar 2008 at 7:24 am

    I play CP with my son as well. Sounds like you have all the basics covered as in keeping the kids protected while they play.

    Tentonhamster.com is a children’s website that is soley for children’s MMOG’s. You guys should check it out for the latest information coming out about all the new games on the horizon.

    Yes, this is a shameless plug in a way because I write for TTH =P But, there is a lot of good information there. We also have a parents section and we do post information for parents including how to keep your kids safe while they play.

    There are a lot of new games coming out soon (Fusion Fall, Lego Universe just to name a few). These games are definitely the wave of the future for our kids.

    I hope you visit sometime. Until then… waddle on! =)

  7. Martinon 10 Mar 2008 at 7:38 am

    Liam,

    Thanks for the additional ideas. Our town is big enough that I told them it’s okay if they mention it too someone. I hadn’t thought about the school name though. Their school is named after a former educator, so it should be easy to find if someone Googles it. And they’re still too young for us to leave at home alone, so that one’s not a problem. I’ll be talking to them about the school name this afternoon.

    Martin

  8. John Lynnon 10 Mar 2008 at 8:48 am

    I think the fact that you’re having a discussion and are involved in your childs’ online life is really the key here. Rules or no rules, having you involved and around is what makes the biggest difference.

  9. Kayza Kleinmanon 10 Mar 2008 at 10:45 am

    One more rule:

    Tell Mom or Dad if

    1. Someone starts asking personal questions
    2. Makes comments or asks questions that make them uncomfortable or sound “off”
    3. Suggest they do things that are wrong or scary

    In general, they should be repeatedly reminded that if anything upsetting happens on line, they should come to you – and you will NOT get angry at them. Very often children find themselves in overwhelming situations and they don’t go to their parents because they are convinced that their parents will be mad – at THEM.

  10. Jayon 10 Mar 2008 at 6:38 pm

    There’s a video put out that McGruff the crime dog makes a return appearance for:
    http://www.ikeepsafe.org/assets/videos/?vid=fauxpaw_video

    I think the best part is the name of the antagonist, “Happy Fluffy Kitty Face”.

    Talks about the things mentioned above and puts the whole message into a colorful cartoon to drive home the points.

  11. Cristina Saffersteinon 10 Mar 2008 at 10:32 pm

    Keep Kids Safe On The Web

    click for more details :
    http://www.sacatech.com/ar/kids-safe-on-web.html

  12. alexon 11 Mar 2008 at 6:10 pm

    Please keep the kids away and encourage other activities.
    (out in nature every day and in each season, scouts, learning to make things and build things, growing things, household chores, music, different museums in the city, etc. )

    Keep it simple throughout and you will be glad later.

    PLEASE keep them away from media giant’s tentacles.
    The number of, speed of, and kinds of images, ads, and messages
    are not good for children (let alone imprinted on brains) over time.

    Basic television channels and little television use only.

  13. [...] They grow up so quickly:  Club Penguin [...]

  14. Sophieon 17 Mar 2008 at 7:18 pm

    ok honestly im 13 i go online sometimes.its monetered and saying bad words gets you banned imidiatily but the swearing is very easy to avoid only the words alone are baned not even all of them and you could right fu ck or fcuk and not get banned reporting doesnt get them banned it gets them watched and i mean people date on that site and the pizza parlor and they have cybersex igloo’s are not monatered for that stuff

  15. [...] this last week but I never quite got around to it.  A fellow security geek, Martin McKeay, wrote a post about his kids’ wanting to join Club Penguin.  For those of you that don’t know, Club [...]

  16. someoneon 30 Mar 2008 at 1:01 pm

    you guys are stressing. i play club penguin and nobody asks people stuff like that because they get BANNED from the website. i would like to meet your kids on club penguin. im blooflu123 what is theirs

  17. Juliaon 25 Apr 2008 at 3:57 pm

    if ypur kid is over 10 DO NOT SIT THEM DOWn FOR A TALK they no rules online by now and “someone” is a creep i’ll have him banned right away, but dont ever stress about DISNEY its the safest websites on the web so you might as well not let them play at all if you want let them play this

  18. someoneon 29 Apr 2008 at 11:42 am

    hey i read that im only 11

  19. [...] http://www.mckeay.net/2008/03/09/they-grow-up-so-quickly-club-penguin/ [...]

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