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How to set up parental controls for safer Xbox gaming

Tech and Innovation Entertainment

Posted on December 17, 2019

9 min read

We’ve recently partnered exclusively with Microsoft to offer Xbox All Access to our customers, and we’re thrilled to be able to have gaming available as an add-on to our plans for the first time. Here we round up some tips on how you can ensure your family has a safe and fun gaming experience with Xbox with Parental Controls.

We spoke to Microsoft’s Corporate Vice President of Xbox Operations, Dave McCarthy, to find out how you can create a dialogue with your kids about their online habits, and how you can ensure safe guardrails are in place on your household Xbox.

Gaming for all

Microsoft’s Head of Xbox, Phil Spencer, recently penned his thoughts on what gaming should be as more and more families take up controllers everywhere. He recognised that gaming as a subculture shouldn’t belong to one particularly vocal group. Instead, communities like Xbox should strive to create a safe space where all players can come together harmoniously.

As part of this “gaming for all” mission, Spencer outlined that Xbox would work to be “vigilant, proactive and swift” in combating abuse on their platform. Furthermore, he committed Xbox and Microsoft to work across the gaming industry on safety measures such as robust parental controls and AI-backed applications.

We’re a huge advocate of this mission. Together, our values align perfectly with Microsoft’s around gaming, especially when it comes to keeping families safe online to create spaces where everyone can thrive.

Here are a few tips and tricks you can use to set up your new Xbox to be a safe and inclusive space with flexible and friendly parental controls.

Activate Smart Content Filtering (now with smart AI)

Learn how to enable new Message Safety Settings on your Xbox One All Access console

Dave McCarthy told us he understands that “competitive banter” is the by-product of online gaming, and filtering out potentially offensive messages is one step that the product team could take immediately to keep kids safer online.

“We’ve been moderating on Xbox Live now for almost 20 years. The way it has worked up until now is that you could retroactively go and report a user to our moderation team that works 24/7 around the globe to investigate,” McCarthy explains.

“What we’ve realised now is that in order to really be effective at size and scale, we need to augment our human intelligence and our moderators with artificial intelligence and machine learning models that run in the background.”

Microsoft has taken clever AI techniques and implemented them to work alongside human moderators, helping to create safe spaces online for all, starting with automated filtering of potentially offensive messages and Gamertag pictures.

Smart Content Filtering enforces these guidelines by helping to automatically filter out potentially offensive messages before their damage can be done. The AI-powered, human moderator-backed feature can be customised based on four levels of filtration: Friendly, Medium, Mature and Unfiltered. These filtration levels work across all aspects of the Xbox ecosystem, starting with private messages and expanding over time to tools that help players find other likeminded gamers. That includes LFG, Clubs and the Xbox Activity Feed.

On your console, you can configure your message safety by going to Settings > General > Online safety & family > Message safety. Whenever you receive a message that’s beyond your safety setting, it’ll be replaced with a [Potentially offensive message hidden] placeholder. You can click on that placeholder to learn more about the settings, and there’s a handy shortcut to change those settings. Adult accounts will have the ability to choose whether to see what content has been filtered based on the filter they choose.

McCarthy referenced Microsoft’s extremely rigorous Community Standards document that acts as the North Star for all things moderation on Xbox Live, saying that “they were really an effort to make sure people understood in plain words what our value system is”.

“It gives players specific examples of what good looks like and what crossing the line is overall,” he added.

Dave McCarthy’s team is now working hard to expand the AI moderation and auto-filtration features across other aspects of the ecosystem.

“Ultimately…we want to try and make sure that we’re getting into all areas of content and communication types on Xbox Live. We’re starting with text because it is one of the biggest communication formats on Xbox Live and there’s a lot that we can learn from that,” says McCarthy.

McCarthy adds that the human Moderation Team is also constantly working to ensure that it sticks with the times. “We’re constantly updating, and our model is trainable as well. Say all of a sudden we wanted to ban the word ‘Luke’ from friendly conversations because it’s now sensitive and offensive. We could put that in our tool and within 10 seconds around the world, ‘Luke’ would be a word filtered out of our Friendly message settings in 21 languages around the world,” McCarthy explains.

Enable Smart Parental Controls

App and game limits to cap how much time your children can use specific apps or games.

Smart filtration automates the process of removing potentially harmful messages from being sent to your kids before they have a chance to see them. For everything else, there’s parental controls that can allow you to manage healthy habits in the home as a parent.

Making sure kids spend the right amount of time on the Xbox is also important, and with the most recent update, Microsoft allows you to filter play time on a per game or app basis. That means you can give your child 1 hour on Minecraft, for example, while allowing 2 hours of Netflix streaming on their Kids profile.

All this data is also recorded into a dashboard you can view, digest and edit from anywhere in the world via an iOS or Android smartphone or Windows computer.

And the Family Group settings for the Xbox One include the essentials, like controlling access to content based on its rating; web filtering and whitelisting, as well as cross-platform privacy and matchmaking safety.

By creating a Family Group with your Microsoft account, you can add your children’s Xbox Accounts and set effective boundaries for their use of your new Xbox One.

Family settings on Xbox empowers parents and guardians to enable or block their child’s access to play or communicate with players on other networks.

Creating a Family Group allows you to first and foremost control the games and apps that your children are purchasing for use on the console. Instead of allowing them free reign to purchase potentially inappropriate material, this control sends you an email when your kids want to buy a game or an app so you can have a discussion on whether it’s appropriate.

Having the talk

It used to be that you could sit your kids in front of prescribed, child-friendly programming for the hours between when school ended and bedtime. But with the advent of smart devices and kids who are highly technically literate, parents can no longer be laissez-faire about their digital habits.

With almost every device in the home now connected to the Internet, along with the breadth and depth of potentially inappropriate content now accessible, parental controls are essential to helping you to make sure that kids are being kept safe online.

With a Microsoft Family Account, you can receive a report each week of how your child used the Xbox One, providing you with transparency on how it was used. This report can be sent to just the parent/s or the parent/s and the child/ren.

Dave McCarthy believes that – while parental control systems are vital for protecting kids online – being able to have a conversation with your kids about their habits is essential.

“[These features are] a conversation starter for our family. It’s not about saying to your kids, ‘Hey, did you follow the hard and fast rules or not?’ It’s: ‘Hey, we talked about not going onto YouTube and you still tried to do it. Can I assume you have a good reason? What was it?’. And then you get into the conversation on why they needed YouTube for that school project. Awesome! Cool. Let’s go change that setting specifically and go there together.

“It’s about having these conversations with your kids. I think, honestly, we need involvement on both sides. We need parents to lean in and understand what the digital activities of their kids look like, and we need kids to be able to be comfortable with all of these different tools and to have a conversation with you as a parent about how you’re using it,” McCarthy says.

Xbox gaming and 5G low latency

Before setting up a console with parental control features, it’s important to sit down with your kids and talk about what they want to use the device for, why and for how long. That way you can come to a compromise with your kids about how long they should spend gaming and watching other content.

It’s also a good opportunity to educate children about engaging with the potentially harmful discourse they may encounter online and arming the whole family with tools to identify and filter it.

“You know what’s best for your family; no technology can ever replace that. The right tools can help make parenting easier and family settings on Xbox does this by putting parents in control of what your children can access across the platform,” McCarthy adds.

We’re excited to bring gaming to our customers via Xbox All Access, and we’re confident that with the right tools available on the console via Microsoft that all parents and kids can game together safely.

To learn more about enabling safety features on your new Xbox All Access device, learn about the core safety features here.