On Saturday, the Houston Chronicle ran a story about the arrest of a 24-year-old man who used the online abilities of a Sony PlayStation 3 (PS3) home console to solicit naked images from an 11-year-old girl. Police are still working the case, but the stated facts in the story led to a rush of fear-induced stories aimed at the PS3 and its PlayStation Network (PSN) online component.
The story from the Chronicle is both frustrating and sad. Anthony Scott O’Shea (24) has been charged with promotion of child pornography, online solicitation of a minor, and sexual performance of a child. The child in question is an unnamed 11-year-old girl. The crimes took place while playing the game Warhawk on PSN, during which O’Shea persuaded the girl to send photos over the course of several weeks.
Later, police said they discovered evidence that O'Shea sent the photos to other people. It wasn’t until the girl told her parents what she had done, including using a Web camera to send the pictures, that police were able to act. According to the Chronicle’s report, police said that the girl reported that “Thunder-kid” (O’Shea’s in-game handle) wanted to arrange a meeting for sex.
O’Shea is a sick man, there is no question about that. He knew the girl's age, and did it anyway. However, the resulting reports of pedophiles using online gaming destinations such as the PSN or Xbox Live, hinting like this is something new, makes no sense.
“This is another venue these guys are getting to use now that hasn’t been seen before. They’re on PlayStation or Xbox playing online games,” Sgt. Gary Spurger told the Chronicle.
The only reason this seems new is someone finally got caught using the technology. Pedophiles will use whatever they can to do harm to children. The use of PSN in this case is no different than any other online service. Parents should treat Xbox Live or PSN connections no differently than Internet connection. There is no reason not to be involved in your child’s gaming life, especially if you take an active role in their Internet life.
In this case, you cannot blame the parents, not totally. However, some comments related to the story do just that, and it isn’t fair. This is because, in the end, the young girl did go to them, and she will get help. However, the question of communication does come in to play. Did her parents communicate with her on the dangers associated with pedophiles online, much as they would if she was alone in the park? If they did, were gaming networks treated differently?
The girl knew capturing and sending the images was wrong and, when pressed for a meeting, internal red flags were finally raised. You have to give her parents some credit for having a decent relationship with their child; if they didn’t, then she would have never gone to them.
Their daughter came to them when a mistake was made and she felt uncomfortable, she had expectations that they would make it right, and they did. If anything, the delay is the major issue here, as well as the question of how she was able to take the images without her parents knowing.
You can argue that an 11-year-old is too young to be online without supervision, either on the Internet using a computer or a connected gaming service. Age doesn’t matter, communication does. Why would anyone deny a child the right to learn and use technology? After all, there is more to the Internet than games. When it comes to Xbox Live or PSN, recreational time has its uses too.
The PSN Terms-of-Service addresses this when it talks about registration and content online. In short, the terms on PSN warn parents that they will need to release some information about a child if they wish to allow them access to the content on the network, and that the child is, for the most part, on their own.
“You will need to create for your child an Online ID that will be associated with the child's PSN Sub Account. Please note that the Online ID is publicly available to and viewable by all PSN users and your child may receive text emails from any PSN users, including adults, in your child's PSN account mailbox. The parent's Master Account will not be notified of such text emails sent to a child's Sub Account mailbox. As the parent or legal guardian, it is your sole responsibility to monitor your child's access to or use of PSN, as well as any communications made or received by your child on or through PSN,” it adds.
This is why communication is important. The content might be different on PSN, but the communications are the same, much as if the kids were on the Internet. Parents simply need to talk with their children about the potential risks, and how to address them. Letting fear run your life, and removing access to the PlayStation or computer isn’t the way to react.
The Tech Herald: Kids and the Internet (Part 1)
The Tech Herald: Kids and the Internet (Part 2)