©2008-2011 MindCandy - Moshi Monsters characters
Via Irina Slutsky in this morning's AdAge online, a new article examining some of the rationale behind going "ad-free" in popular kids' social networks Moshi Monsters and Togetherville, as well as "ad-light" in Everloop. The article has some good points about how hard it is to control who registers, and provides some troubling insight into Everloop's approach to consumer socialization (highlighting how much I really do need to find out a lot more about that particular site).
But what really caught my attention were the comments from Moshi Monster's Rebecca Newton, who openly and earnestly discusses the links between third-party advertisers and data-mining, and condemns covert corporate surveillance in a way rarely seen outside of the academy and advocacy sectors. Here's an excerpt from the AdAge article:
Online playgrounds with colorful names such as Everloop and Togetherville aren't only popular with small fry, but also investors. Everloop just raised $3.1 million and Togetherville was acquired by Walt Disney Co. earlier this year for an undisclosed sum. Moshi Monsters, a 3-year-old kids' social-gaming network, has already raked in $100 million this year, but not one dime of it was from advertisers.
"Believe me, we get asked to incorporate branding and advertising all the time," said Rebecca Newton, chief community and safety officer at Moshi Monsters, which expects to have 70 to 80 million members in 200 countries by the end of this year. "But it's complicated. When kids tell their friends they just had a mocha latte at Starbucks, they don't understand that now Starbucks has their name and knows that they went to a Starbucks in Des Moines on Third Street on Thursday and had a mocha latte and they start getting coupons for 20 mocha lattes.Later in the article, Slutsky describes Newton as "very passionate on the topic," describing how Newton sees sophisticated ad/data-mining techniques as unfair and "...exploitative on a high level -- getting information from a kid who doesn't know what they're doing."
Now - this is not to say that Moshi Monsters doesn't contain other forms of promotional content. It is cross-promoted in a variety of Moshi Monster toys and products, and includes a pay-to-play membership level promoted through the same type of velvet rope marketing found in other virtual worlds such as Club Penguin and BarbieGirls. BUT - all that said - it's extremely important and wonderful that they've taken such a hard stance against covert data-mining/corporate surveillance and the various manipulations this practice enables. I don't know for sure that this means they don't do it themselves, of course, but I would be very surprised (and dismayed) if they did, after being so openly against the practice. Which, by the way, is very often omitted from industry discourses altogether, particularly in discussions of kids and rights and risks.
So huzzah and yay to Moshi Monsters and to Rebecca Newton for not only acknowledging (& articulating) the unethical implications of corporate surveillance, but for setting a high standard that I hope others in this business will emulate. (Note: and if the first comment left in the comments section is any indication, Moshi Monsters aren't the only ones adopting a more ethical stance to kids' information - check it out).