Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Game Consoles = Unfiltered Internet

A game console is the kind of video game box that you connect to your TV, and either buy or rent DVDs to play on them. The most common examples are xBox from Microsoft, PlayStation from Sony, and Wii from Nintendo. Many people don't realize that most of these game consoles today have the ability to connect to the Internet, and could be a source of unfiltered Internet access within your home.

The primary reason that these game consoles have Internet access is to allow you to connect to someone outside of your home and play a game in real-time with them. While this has its own set of dangers (where do you think the predators are going to hang out, if they want to meet your children?), that is a subject for a future blog post. The danger I want to discuss today is the little-known fact (among parents, that is) that many of these consoles also have a built-in web browser which will use that same Internet connection to simply browse the web.

Yup- that's right - if your console is connected to the web, it is entirely possibly, even probable, that it is being used to browse the Internet, unfiltered by the PC-based filter you may have installed on the computers in your home. This doesn't mean that it is being used to see content that the filter would prohibit - but the possibility certainly exists. And, if you are using a PC-based filter, the activity from the game console would NOT show up in your usage reports either - it is a completely separate device that does not report its activity to your filter.

The good news is that most of these consoles have parental controls built in. Although you cannot install your own filter, you can set the console to allow the level of access you desire in your home.

If you have a game console in your home, check to see if it is connected to the Internet. Many of these consoles have the ability to disable the web browser while still allowing connections to others in the games, so don't worry that you are going to limit the "live" experience of interactive gaming, if that is what you purchased the console for. Of course, you can also close down the Internet connection completely from these boxes, and leave the gaming to those within the walls of your home, if you so desire.

Finally, remember that the parental controls on these boxes allow you to set the level of access that is appropriate for your home - use them! Set the parental controls to only allow the ESRB ratings that are appropriate for your family (see the ratings here). And, communicate with your children - know what games they are playing, with whom, and when.

7 comments:

dasheight said...

A little more research needed to be done with this article before the fearmongering began. Before I continue, let me state that I am a 42-year old man that owns several online-enabled game consoles, as listed below. Needless to say, it's nigh on to impossible, or time-consuming to get onto the internet onto a console...

Sony PlayStation 3: Has the easiest, and most 'internet-looking' browser, and the only free one. However, you're restricted to using a controller to maneuver around each individual letter to type a website. It could take you five minutes just to get to Google.

Sony PSP: See above, except the screen is in your hand. And the WiFi is hit or miss to say the least.

Nintendo Wii: Also has an Opera-based browser, but you have to pay 500 Nintendo points ($5) to even install it. (It was initially free.) If you thought the PS3 browser was unweildy, try the Wii sometime. You always end up pointing the cursor at the wrong letter 75 times before you get frustrated.

Microsoft X-Box 360: ...Doesn't have an internet browser. Of any kind.

But the quote that took the cake was "If you have a game console in your home, check to see if it is connected to the Internet." If you've ever set up a game console to a wireless network, you'd realize that a lot of kids aren't getting their own consoles online. (The X-Box took me two hours!) So if you're a parent setting up a gaming system online, you should acquaint yourself of the parental controls - or, at the very least, keep your kids away from your credit cards.

Chances are, if a parent is savvy enough to set parental controls on a PC, they can do it on a gaming console. Mind you, parental controls are no substitute for, you know, actual parenting, but that's the main thing that gets lost in articles such as these. (Or in this case, stuffed into the last sentence.)

I have seven nieces and nephews who all come over to play my consoles on weekends. And I have yet to catch them trying anything nefarious on a console-based browser. Worst crime they committed was regularly beating their Uncle senseless on "Guitar Hero". And, yes, their consoles are also wired at their homes.

Nothing like another 'expert' instilling fear into kids' fun, eh? But, then again, the next Ted Bundy might want to challenge your kid to a game of 'Mario Kart'...

Ken Knapton said...

I sincerely appreciate comments from my readers, whether they agree with my point of view or not. It shows that at least someone is reading, and that is a good thing.

It is clear from this comment that the individual is not a purveyor of pornographic content, and for this I am very glad. Unfortunately, the studies and data do not reflect this individual’s personal experience. Studies show that viewing of pornography via game consoles connected to high-definition flat screen monitors is growing, and there are reports as far back as 2 years indicating that porn sites were, even then, modifying their layout to make them more user-friendly from the game console browsers. While it certainly may be true that because of the clunky user interface it takes 5 minutes to access the site the first time, it is forever after – once saved in the “favorites” - only a single click away.

The commenter makes a good point, though, when it is stated that nothing takes the place of good parenting. That, after all, is what this blog is all about. I am not in the habit of instilling fear, but rather simply educating parents about what our children already know. After all, our children are the digital natives, and we are the immigrants to this digital world in which we find ourselves. We need not fear technology, but we do need to understand it in order to help our children use it safely.

Anonymous said...

Ken
I appreciate your article and have to agree with your concern. The last poster kind of down plays how easy it is to get access to the Internet and inappropriate content via a console. I personally own a ps3, xbox (old school xbox not a 360), and wii, all 3 of the devices have browsers and all 3 were connected to my home wifi network in less than 5 minutes.

I think anyone who has a gaming console would want to connect it to the web to facilitate online gaming, get system updates, and download game add-ons and updates. We got a wii for christmas and the first thing I did was fire it up, go online and download the latest update.

I cant speak for the xbox, but Sony has no parental controls, It can either disable the browser, or enable it. I dont see anything in my wii as far as internet parental controls at all. My only option would be to uninstall the browser.

I consider myself a very attentive parent, and I very technical, but if I had a 14 year old son, playing ps3 in the basement on a 50 inch plasma hdtv, I would be very concerned. The truth is he can watch full streaming flash 9 video via the ps3 browser anytime he wants.

I personally have used my ps3 browser to watch hulu.com and get full screen hd content. I would imagine that there is plenty of free streaming porn on the web.

Clark Christensen said...

Ken,

It is because of internet-connected game consoles, WiFi-enabled phones and visitors' laptops that I took the time to set up a network-based content filter at our house. I took an old computer that was too old to use for day-to-day work and set it up so that all network traffic in the house (including visiting laptops and game consoles) still go through a content filter. By the way, it's a content filter AND and URL filter. It can block whole sites known to be pornographic, but also scans the contents of pages looking for patterns of words for illicit material. The filter software itself is called Dansguardian (free/open source). You can read about it and download it at dansguardian.org but you can get it preinstalled in a Linux operating system at clarkconnect.com. The ClarkConnect package is free for personal use as well. Check the licensing, and consider paying for some additional services if it fits your needs. (I'm not affiliated with the products or companies, I've just been using it at my home for a couple of years now.) You'll need a second network adapter in that filtering computer, and you'll want to set it up as a transparent proxy, but if you are a little handy with computers and have an extra computer laying around this solution can let you sleep a little easier at night. You just make sure that the filter is connected to the cable modem or DSL router coming into the home, and your wired or wireless router is connected to your filter box.

My point was just to highlight that there are a variety of options out there depending on your perceived risk level, your resources and your technical know-how.

game consoles said...

Good Article with good concern about Game consoles.

Jeremy said...

Ken Knapton,

Do you have any information as to how to disable internet browsing while still allowing for online gaming play?

Thank you much

Ken Knapton said...

Jeremy: Here are some links to information about Parental Controls for 3 of the popular game consoles: If you have a Wii look at this one, or this one from HowTo.com.

If you have an XBox use this link, or look here for the Playstation