14 Aug 2012

What is happening in Habbo Hotel?

Since a Channel 4 News investigation two months ago into the online game Habbo, lots has changed both on the site and behind the scenes. Here is what has been happening.

What is happening in Habbo Hotel?

Back in June, Channel 4 News revealed shocking details of a significant lack of moderation in the online game, Habbo (formerly known as Habbo Hotel). We found the site to contain pornographic sexual chat, despite being aimed at children as young as 13-years-old. We found there to be little or no moderation despite the fact that Sulake, the company which runs the site, told us that user safety is its top priority.There was also evidence that paedophiles could be using the site to “groom” victims.

Sulake’s Chief Executive Paul LaFontaine told us: “Habbo’s moderation and safeguarding procedures includes employing more than 225 moderators, tracking some 70m lines of conversation globally every day on a 24/7 basis. These moderators cover all time-zones and the multiple languages in which Habbo users converse.”

Subsequent to our report, Sulake “muted” the site, meaning users (known as Habbos) could not chat with each other and some Habbos even staged an online protest.

Decline in moderation

We were flooded with emails and tweets as well as messages to the Channel 4 News Facebook page. Some of the messages strongly criticised our news story but some people backed the findings and said they had had similar experiences.

Sophie emailed us and said: “I am 18-years-old and I started playing Habbo about five years ago. Last year I sent Habbo an email with evidence of a male asking if I want to see his private parts…

“When I reported this to Habbo I was [told I was] abusing the ‘help’ tool.

“I then emailed the company with evidence and a screenshot proving my statement. They emailed me back with the response ‘Please remove the Habbo from your friends list to avoid getting messages from him. We do not accept screenshot as evidence as they can be altered. Yours, Habbo.com Customer Support.'”

Another wrote: “Your article has finally brought to light something I have tried to change for a long long time. I have personally witnessed a great decline in moderation.

“In 2007 the amount of sexually-orientated rooms really irritated me, so I sent a report to Habbo through their customer support tool, with a dossier of screenshots, names and instances of abuse. They chose to ignore me. Every event I had mentioned in said dossier had also been reported through the in-game “Call For Help” feature to the duty moderators at the time, and I got either the reply ‘Thank you your issue has been dealt with’ when it clearly hadn’t or ‘Do not abuse this system, it is for emergencies only.'”

Safety quiz

Since it “muted” Habbo, Sulake has been carrying out changes behind the scenes to improve safety on the site.

The Sulake blog reports: “The site is visibly different, with users unable to talk until they have completed a safety quiz to demonstrate that they are aware of the security facilities in place and understand their own role in actively contributing to the safety of the site. Users now earn the right to speak more freely, meaning that they are rewarded for responsible behaviour as part of our focus on driving a culture change across the community.

“We are aware that creating a safe and secure user experience is a responsibility shared by the company, legitimate users and their parents. For this reason, we are now calling for parents to participate in our Parental Advisory Summit. It’s our chance to understand better how we can collaborate with parents to deliver the best possible levels of safety to our users.”

Gift cards

Habbo users can buy gift cards to purchase items for their virtual hotel rooms. Several companies including Tesco, Game and WHSmith withdrew Habbo gift cards from sale as a consequence of our report.

Tesco has confirmed to Channel 4 News it “currently has no plans” to put the cards back on sale.

Watch our original report on Habbo Hotel