Online Games: 5 Safety and Privacy Tips

Online Games: 5 Safety and Privacy Tips

As much as we gaming aficionados enjoy online and massively multiplayer online (MMO) games, it’s important to remind ourselves that – like many friends and family members, alas – kids can sometimes forget that in a virtual world, everything is make-believe, right down to the characters and personalities which inhabit it. And while most are harmless extensions of players’ real-world selves, or fellow enthusiasts simply looking to mix and mingle, interspersed with the vast, unwashed masses are also often a host of bad apples, from con artists to hackers, spammers, phishers, identity theft pros and (harsh reality check here), yes, even the occasional sexual predator.

Therefore it’s important to establish a number of ground rules before allowing both tots and friends with a childlike sense of innocence about the practice access to online play, whether through PC, console, iPhone/iPad, Web browser, virtual world or social network. (Not to mention solo, disc-based games with Internet-ready multiplayer components as well.) Bearing this in mind, let’s set a few ground rules for online game safety and privacy that are equally applicable to sprouts and adults alike.

Taking advantage of parental controls and filters makes a great start. Such tools let you limit access to questionable content; set specific hours of play; determine whether strangers can interact with yourself or your kids or just those on a preset friends list; and disable voice and text chat, functions that are all well and good. But still, as we point out in a recent article entitled Internet Access Via Video Game Systems a New Concern for Parents, there’s ultimately no substitute for personal education. It’s vital to know what your kids and fellow family members are playing, how they’re playing it, and who with at all times, a task that’s thankfully made easier by a host of helpful sites from IGN and GameSpot to 1up, Common Sense Media and What They Play. Most games also come with ESRB ratings and detailed descriptors, which delineate suitability for specific age groups and aspects which certain audiences may find questionable, helping you identify potential trouble titles at a glance. Realistically though, there’s just no substitute for going hands-on with these titles yourself, which – if done openly in the company of relatives, pals and/or siblings/offspring – can also prove an enjoyable and bonding activity.

In addition, as mentioned in Cybercrime News via recent feature Online Games: Fun or Risky?, a few basic ground rules should further be followed to ensure your safety:

  • Never reveal your name, address, birthday or any other personal information online.
  • Beware of unsolicited messages purporting to be from the game publisher and seeking sensitive data from account numbers to your age or hometown. When in doubt, look up the game publisher’s customer service number on its homepage, then place a call to them and ask to verify the mailing.
  • Setup a separate email address that you can use when registering and receiving in-game communications, to spare yourself an avalanche of spam and minimize potentially damaging phishing attempts.
  • Maintain up-to-date copies of all virus scanner and firewall software – many free solutions such as AVG, Avast, Avira AntiVir and ZoneAlarm exist that can protect your PC without denting your pocketbook.
  • Never mention recent happenings (“just broke up with my boyfriend :<,” “Tommy’s graduation is tomorrow!” or “Stuck home alone again…zzzz”) or upcoming departures (i.e. vacations and weekend trips) in these public settings – they can act as ammo for enterprising social engineers and scammers, or a giant blazing billboard advertising when no one’s home to guard against robbery.

All told, online gaming can be a great pastime, whether enjoyed by yourself or in the company of others. So long as you approach the hobby with a healthy sense of safety and caution, it makes a great way for the entire family to get connected.

About Scott Steinberg
Scott Steinberg is CEO of strategic consulting and product testing firm TechSavvy Global, and a noted keynote speaker and business expert. Hailed as a top tech expert and parenting guru by critics from USA Today to NPR, he’s also an on-air analyst for ABC, CBS and CNN.

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