You are in a small minority if you have a kid in elementary school and you haven’t heard about Roblox. The online gaming platform has a staggering 56 million daily users, with 60% of players under the age of 16 and 22% under the age of 9, making it one of the most popular games in the world for young kids. The already-popular metaverse exploded even further during the pandemic, with millions of kids connecting socially within the game to make up for face-to-face friend time. By April 2020, two-thirds kids between the ages of 9 and 12 were using the platform.
But while some people sing the praises of the computer game’s social aspects and creative opportunities, others say the platform is rife with issues that present safety problems for young kids, and raise questions about how the platform makes its profits through in-game purchases by minors using their parents’ money.
Just last week, for example, an 11-year-old girl was kidnapped from her home by an adult man who she met through Roblox. And in the past, safety experts have raised concerns about explicit content on the app, like “condo games” in which kids can stumble into “strip clubs” or see avatars engaging in sex acts.
The company continues to brand itself as safe and family friendly.
Now, this week, multiple families are suing Roblox for the online exploitation of children.
The complaint, which is being filed in San Diego Superior Court, accuses Roblox of “intentional and negligent misrepresentation, unjust enrichment, violations of California’s Unfair Competition Law, False Advertising Law, Consumer Legal Remedies Act, and State Consumer Protection Acts.”
These claims include those from parents whose children have been put in danger by the app and from parents who have paid out thousands of dollars to the app via “Robux,” the game’s tender.
“Roblox is an astoundingly popular platform, on par with Barbie and Lego as a one-word brand name that sparks trust among parents and educators. But it’s a misplaced trust and is completely undeserved,” said Anne Andrews, Founding Partner of Andrews & Thornton, in a statement. “Parents need to know about the dangers that children encounter in Roblox’s metaverse, and children need to know that when they are spending Robux, they are actually spending their parents’ real money. Roblox claims it goes ‘above and beyond’ to keep kids safe, but the systems that monitor lewd behavior often fail, and the platform makes it nearly impossible for parents to monitor, track and quantify where and how children spend their money.”
One of the parents involved in the lawsuit is Damien Uhl, a father of three who discovered that his then-12-year-old daughter — who played the game for an hour or two a day — was being groomed by an adult posing as a child and had been receiving messages of a sexual nature. The groomer was also able to get his daughter to interact off of the site altogether.
“She spent about six years on Roblox and we were monitoring her in a friendship that she started on Roblox. She had gotten quite fond of this person, but we eventually discovered that she having these conversations with an adult,” he told Scary Mommy in an interview.
“We quickly reported the site, tried to report the account and tried to take some steps just as far as legal steps to report this person,” he continued. “And unfortunately the response to the whole thing was just no response, which threw up some red flags for us. I was extremely upset that my kid was exposed to this and so I tried to travel as many avenues as I could to get to a resolution.”
Read more: Making Roblox Safer For Kids: A Guide For Parents
Another plaintiff says that they discovered that their daughter has received profane and sexual messages from multiple users on the site despite Roblox portraying itself as a safe environment for kids. According to the statement, “one user asked her son to perform virtual oral sex on his avatar in the game. Another user asked her son to show them his genitals, and yet another called him a malicious racial slur.”
Roblox has a number of safety measures in place. Parents can limit or turn off chat features, and the game blocks users from profane language or information exchange. They also have moderators shutting down any activity that violates their rules. But some parents say there are far too many loopholes.
Roblox will not talk specifically about the legal case, but a spokesperson responded generally in an email to CBS 8, a local San Diego affiliate.
“We dispute the allegations and will respond in court. Roblox is committed to providing a positive and safe experience for people of all ages,” they wrote. “We have an expert team of thousands of people dedicated to moderation and safety on Roblox 24/7, and we act swiftly to block inappropriate content or behavior when detected, including sexual content that violates our Community Rules.”
Uhl, who has taken his daughter off the platform completely, says that the only way to protect your kid during gameplay is to watch their screen religiously.
“Monitor and set up whatever monitoring that you can,” he said. “The site is kind of hard to navigate, especially in these live chats. There’s really no way unless you’re standing over your kid’s shoulder. This is out there and that it can happen to anyone.”
But Andrews stresses that Roblox should be ultimately responsible for what happens to kids when they are in their metaverse.
“The responsibility lies with corporation,” she told Scary Mommy. “The parents’ responsibility is to do the very best they can to keep their children safe from what is essentially exposure to illegal conduct crimes on the internet. And parents can be as diligent as Damien and others, but the problem is not with the parents who are doing the best they can as parents. It’s impossible. The responsibility is with the company to tell parents the truth. And the truth is that the website isn’t safe.”
Scary Mommy has reached out to Roblox for comment.