Read fine print before sending your child to Mars these holidays

If a trip to Mars or the chance to battle zombies is on your child’s wish-list this year, the eSafety Commissioner encourages you to read the safety fine print before buying tech gifts that open up access to these virtual worlds.

eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant said while immersive devices like virtual reality headsets and haptic gloves can unlock new and fantastical experiences, they can also expose your child to a range of harms.

“Our research shows that around 1 in 5 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.

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

“We want parents and carers to maximise these immersive experiences with their kids while ensuring they’re not unintentionally inviting virtual predators into their homes or opening up worlds that promote harmful ideas or gory content.”

Ahead of the festive season, the eSafety Gift Guide sets out a checklist of safety and privacy issues for parents to consider before purchasing new technology.

“For parents planning to buy this type of gift, we want you to have your eyes wide open to potential harms so you can protect and support your child to use immersive tech safely,” Ms Inman Grant said.

“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.

“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.

“Understand what parental controls are built in. For example, can you approve any app downloads or purchases? Can you view their friends? Can you control or restrict access to known and age-appropriate players?

“Make sure your child can quickly report harmful or inappropriate content or contact, and mute or block other users in real-time.

“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 even after all this due diligence, keep on top of your child’s online activities.

“It’s essential to stay an active participant in your child’s online – and virtual – life. Regularly review the settings and landscapes your child is playing in to make sure they are age-appropriate and safe,” Ms Inman Grant said.

“Have them use their devices in open areas of the home and supervise what they’re doing. New features now make it possible to monitor activity by ‘casting’ or ‘mirroring’ what is on your child’s headset onto the family TV.

“The online and offline worlds of children and young people are inextricably linked, often in ways that adults don’t understand, so it’s crucial parents and carers are engaged in both these worlds.”

Read the eSafety Gift Guide for tips and advice on immersive tech.

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