Habbo Hotel filled with sexual chats
Following reports of "explicitly sexual interactions" taking place in the game, one of its biggest investors has withdrawn.
by Rune H. Rasmussen
Habbo Hotel is a huge social game and online community for young people, currently getting 10 million visitors each month. The game is set in a virtual hotel, in which players can create avatars, furnish their hotel room and engage in public or private chats with other players.
It all seems perfectly innocent, and the site uses technology to filter content and block inappropriate users, as well as a large number of online moderators. However, a Channel 4 News story last week uncovered highly disturbing chats happening in the game.
Channel 4 News reporter Rachel Seifert spent two months playing Habbo Hotel, and every time she logged on the site she came across conversations of a sexual nature:
"The chat was very sexual, perverse, violent, pornographic, overtly sexual acts, people saying they were going to do things to others, and it was very graphic. Within two minutes I was being asked individually 'do you have a webcam?', 'can we chat on (instant messenger service) MSN, on Skype?' I was also, within a couple of minutes, asked to strip, fully naked, and asked what would I do on a webcam."
A dangerous place for children
John Carr, one of the world’s leading experts on child safety, said to Channel 4:
"If I was a parent of an 11-year old girl on this site, I would want there to be a moral panic. This should not be happening. What I've just seen makes me think this is a dangerous place for youngsters to be.”
"Businesses shouldn't put children at risk, he added. “If they are in this business, they have to be in it in the right way - the right moderators, the right software, to stop this happening."
Last year, a 21 year old man was sentenced to seven years imprisonment after grooming more than 80 young girls, all of them originally being contacted on Habbo Hotel.
Investor drops it stake
Following Channel 4’s inquiry, Tesco, WH Smith and GAME will stop selling Habbo gift cards. More importantly, Venture capital firm Balderton told the BBC it will drop its stake in Sulake, the company which owns Habbo Hotel. Balderton is Sulake’s second largest investor, controlling 16 per cent of the shares.
Sulake chief executive Paul LaFontaine told the BBC that the company was "very concerned" to learn about the incidents and would act quickly to restore user security:
"We have responded immediately to remove offending content. We already filter content and block inappropriate users. Since hearing about the findings of the investigation we have increased the number of active moderators at any given time and strengthened our automated filtering technology."
However, Tuesday night, after learning that Balderton was to drop its stake, Habbo Hotel shut down all conversations on its network in response to the allegations.
“Habbos, due to the challenging behavior of a few users we have decided to mute the site and will update you when we have more information,” it said via Twitter.
Channel 4 News has passed the findings of the inquiry to the government.
Channel 4 News
Should you let you child play in Habbo Hotel?