DUBAI: The Middle Eastern developers of a new headset designed to protect child gamers from online predators hope the device will help quell a reported surge in abuse cases during coronavirus disease (COVID-19) lockdowns.
The pandemic has resulted in people spending more time online and the popularity of gaming has grown significantly, particularly among youngsters.
But according to research, the trend has led to increasing numbers of children falling prey to tricksters who groom them into sharing explicit photos and videos by sending them gaming currency.
UK charity, the Internet Watch Foundation, recently recorded a monthly record of more than 15,000 reports of online child abuse in September alone, while another British campaign organization the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children uncovered 1,220 online offenses against children in the first three months of lockdown.
The gaming market in Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries was this year expected to be worth $821 million, up from $693 million in 2017, a study by Strategy& has revealed, with Saudi Arabia and the UAE the biggest players.
To raise awareness and educate parents on the potential dangers of unsupervised online gaming, Mobily eSports, in partnership with advertising agency MullenLowe MENA, has created the ProtectSet headset.
The device uses voice-changing technology to help children stay safe while playing online by masking their true age and making them sound older.
In a joint statement, Matt Butterworth, managing director for the Middle East and North Africa, and Muhannad Kadi, general manager at Mobily, told Arab News: “More than 93 percent of kids play video games. We are 100 percent aware that the device, alone, does not end the issue. But it has the power to make people debate the issue and bring the subject of gaming safety into news stations, homes, workplaces, and so forth.”
Although voice-altering software is widely available online, Butterworth and Kadi said ProtectSet stood out due to its quality and compatibility.
“We did extensive research, testing, and audio calibration with the headset, on both girls and boys, to make sure the sound quality and output were really perfect.
“The technology used makes the kid’s voice sound more mature by altering their pitch. We ran a series of tests to ensure that it sounded natural and not robotic. And this is what makes our device singular and well-rounded,” they added.
The headset is compatible with all consoles and computers, compared to a lot of software available for computer games only.
ProtectSet is currently in the prototype stage but is expected to be on sale within the next seven to nine months after further testing. Prototypes are currently being trialed by media professionals, gamers, and children.
In the Middle East:
• More than 74 percent of parents are worried about their child’s online safety.
• 84 percent of parents are concerned that strangers will approach their child via online gaming platforms.
• Almost half of parents (46 percent) said they did not know who their child was playing with online.
• More than 67 percent of parents wanted the gaming industry to do more to protect their children’s online safety.
• On average, parents thought their child would talk to a stranger online while gaming at least three times a week.
• 45 percent of parents predicted that their child spent up to 10 hours or more online gaming each week.