What does your work as Head of Club Penguin involve – what’s “the vision”?
Every day at Club Penguin is different which makes my role very interesting! I look after everything from health and safety, to development of new toys and products, expansion into new markets and the on-going development of the game. But as you might expect my main responsibility is to ensure that we give parents peace of mind so delivering on our commitment to safety each day is top of the list.
Club Penguin is an online playground for kids. It’s free to play and when a child signs up they create a penguin character through which they explore the snow-capped virtual island, playing lots of different games, adopting pet Puffles, decorating their igloo home as well as chatting with friends.
I’m based in Brighton, home of our European headquarters, so oversee a moderation team of 60, part of a global team of more than 200, who monitor the goings on in world. The team, review chat logs, approve Penguin names and also ensure our technological chat filter is kept up to date. I also work closely with online safety partners such as CEOP to make sure staff training is up to date.
Moderators make up the biggest proportion of our staff and their role is extremely important as kids are far more likely to have a great time if they feel safe. This drives what we all do at Club Penguin.
Where do you get your inspiration/passion from to keep kids safe online?
The one piece of advice I would give to all kids and parents whether they use the internet regularly or not is really simple, don’t share any personal information online
I don’t think there are many parents who are not cautious about their children using the Internet and as a mum of two I’m no different. The Internet opens up a wealth of opportunities for kids to learn, explore new hobbies, pursue their interests and connect with friends and family but the vastness of the web is daunting.
What the founders of Club Penguin aimed to do was to create a place where their own children could benefit from the best the Internet has to offer - fun, creativity, making friends, playing games, expressing themselves - in a closed environment. As kids make their first solo steps online with Club Penguin this also gives parents time to adjust too.
By just getting involved in their online experience, simple things like helping them to decorate their igloos, helps to establish the healthy habit of talking about what they are doing online. This helps parent’s work out what ground rules to put into place which can then be built on as their children get older and migrate to open social networking sites and experiences where they may share personal information.
As a mother yourself, how important is it for child safety procedures to be in place online – and what advice would you give to parents with children who access the internet regularly?
I think the safety of your child is the biggest concern for any parent whether that’s buckling them into the back seat or exploring online.
The one piece of advice I would give to all kids and parents whether they use the internet regularly or not is really simple, don’t share any personal information online. Whether you’re seven or seventy, sharing personal information can get you into trouble so it’s good to instill this in your kids from a young age. Teach your children to never give away details about where they go to school, address, passwords, and email or telephone number.
And the same rules apply to us parents too. There is nothing wrong with sharing pics of our kids through our own social network profiles but we should make sure that these are set to private, that we don’t have hundreds of ‘friends’ on our friends list that we don’t really know and that we aren’t revealing personal information about our kids, for example where they go to school.
Childnet has some great resources for kids and parents, check out http://www.kidsmart.org.uk/
There has never been a security lapse at Club Penguin – what’s your secret?
A lot of hard work, commitment, investment and great partnerships
At Club Penguin, we invest millions every year in moderation staff and our safety technology.
We’ve created our own technical filters, so only words that we’ve entered into our ‘white list’ of approved words will get through the filters. Words not on the white list don’t get through and only our moderators and the child typing the word will be able to see the phrase. This was designed to encourage good behaviour, as kids who might try to be naughty soon get bored as they think they are being ignored.
We believe human moderation is an essential safety net, as well as keeping an eye on in-world happenings our moderators also keep our white list up to date, as the English language changes so much. We have over 200 full time moderators on our staff world
We also partner with organisations like Childnet and CEOP and have a safety process in place that will see emergency services arrive at an address within 15 minutes should a child ever express an intention to self-harm.
Disney has just partnered with local internet safety groups to deliver educational messages via its owned media – can you tell us more about that?
I’m really excited about this and this is one of the benefits of working for a company like Disney. We have a huge family audience that we can reach through our TV channels, our stores and online sites. This means we can really effectively help support our online safety partners deliver important information about online safety.
The reason behind this move was that we can, as we do at Club Penguin, implement technical tools and provide human moderation to safeguard our sites but we have no control over what happens when kids leave these to go to others. Giving kids and parents the information that they need to stay safe is the piece of the puzzle that’s missing and that’s what we hope to provide with this campaign.
Club Penguin is an official partner of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) – can you share any unique or ‘cool’ tips and tricks that made you say ‘wow’ – or something that Club Penguin does especially to protect young members?
We are really proud of our partnership with CEOP and they have some great resources for parents and children at http://www.thinkuknow.co.uk/ so please take a look!
One of the questions that parents will often ask is how much is too much time spent online. There is no one size fits all answer to that, it really does depend on the family, but on Club Penguin we have a parent timer tool. This allows parents to set the amount of time and time of day their child can play Club Penguin. Once their time is up, they’ll automatically be logged out of the game.
Why did you pursue this role specifically?
I’ve always loved working in the field of entertainment; I worked as a brand manager in Disney’s home entertainment department before taking on this job. Parents know all too well that more and more kids are seeking their entertainment online and from a career perspective I found it really interesting to move into the digital field. I’ve learned a lot of new things and found immense satisfaction in launching a Club Penguin mobile, magazine, toys and books – all of which connect to the virtual world as well as taking all the suggestions we get from kids to keep Club Penguin a great fun and creative place for them to come back to.
What do you most enjoy about your role?
Working with kids. We get just a glimpse of the imaginations of the children that play Club Penguin and on a daily basis we find ourselves lost for words in the best way possible and the things we see or get sent. We witness kids playing together in ways we would never imagine whether that’s pretending to rescue others from the ski hill to twenty kids dressing their penguin’s in pink to commemorate breast cancer awareness day on the iceberg.
We get thousands of emails and calls every week, each of which we respond to, with ideas and suggestions for the game. We have a weekly meeting where we run through many of these ideas as they help us shape the game and inform the development of Club Penguin moving forward. The ideas for Puffles, to Jet Pack Adventure and the Adventure Party, where kids left Club Penguin Island for the first, all came from kids and were brought to life by a vibrant and creative team who I really enjoy working with!
Seeing the creativity of children and watching the enthusiasm of my team in developing their ideas is definitely the best part of my job!
For more information on Club Penguin please visit www.clubpenguin.com