Protecting Children from Online Predators

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On April 24th our family received a call at our home that has since turned our life upside down.  The call was from an out of state number and, after their second attempt calling within seconds of one another, I answered the phone.  The caller, clearly an adult male, was attempting to contact my son.  My heart sunk, I knew something was wrong.  We don’t give out our home phone number, and why would an adult be trying to talk to my child?!  At the time of the call my son was on his Xbox and as a parent I knew it was somehow connected so I started digging, what we found is more than disturbing.  A predator had been messaging my son. 

The first message was sent as my son watched a YouTube video via the Xbox; first under the premise of game sharing, then gaining my sons trust, and ultimately turning the conversation sexual.  He asked him his age and then pretended to be the same age in an attempt to find common ground and then said they were now married, referred to my son as "daddy”, and then in detail, described what he wanted to do to my son sexually!!  This predator got all of our info; he has my name, our son’s name, our son’s age, our city, our phone number and HE CALLED OUR HOME! 

My husband is a school teacher and I own my own business - our lives are dedicated to helping people.  We are a very close family, we are engaged parents, and we have strict guidelines and rules for our kids.  They aren't allowed telephones, no social media accounts, and when we got the Xbox as a Christmas gift for our son, we had lengthy conversations about what he could and couldn't do.  We've had all the normal conversations, gave all the normal warnings, we didn't allow online gaming, we attempted to lock up his account, he was only allowed to play E for everyone games, and only for max an hour a day.  We thought we had done everything right...we thought we had protected our child.  

But this person, this predator, he still got in.  He knew what kind of Xbox we had purchased, he lured my child in and then he called our home.  In a split second, all of our security has vanished.

We have been forced to change our phone number, install safety measures we never thought we needed; my son has undergone a forensic interview and we suddenly feel like sitting ducks.  We have contacted our local law enforcement who assures me they are doing everything to find who this person is and what their intention is, but the process is slow, and in the meantime, we live in fear.  So much fear in fact, that last week when an unfamiliar vehicle pulled behind me into our driveway, my son cried and screamed.  He thought the person who had sent him those messages was coming to hurt him, to hurt us - it was just the flower delivery truck.  Can you imagine fear like that?  Can you image a child having to worry about something like that?    

I’ve been trying to understand how something like this happened, and how to make sure it doesn't happen again.  In my research on Xbox and the way the system is set up I've learned that their security levels are not properly aligned with the players/demographics they are marketing to.

First, there is a misconception (by consumers and those selling it) that electing not to have an Xbox Gold membership means players can’t access the “social” aspects of the Xbox.  What they don’t inform consumers of is that they will still be setup under Xbox Silver which does allow certain “social” features – including messaging, friend acceptance, etc.  Additionally, the parental lock features by definition “child”, “teen”, have built-in features which block aspects based on their decision of age appropriateness.  However the default “child” parental lock still allows children to “add friends” and chat with those friends.  Do we honestly think a child can determine whether a person is a “friend” by their gamer tag?  I can assure you they can’t!

I am not here to place blame on Microsoft, nor is my intent to file a negligence lawsuit.  My intention is however, to ask them to reassess their protection of our children.  This petition is an attempt to ask them to reanalyze their safety features.  Their parental control feature is not adequate.  A “child” account default should block all online content and social features – only to be changed by the parent.  It should not be the opposite of allowing features and then only providing the parent with instructions to change those after something like this has happened.  I would implore them to include a separate instruction sheet specifically related to “online security of children” in their packaging – it’s not a difficult step, yet a vital piece of information they could provide to parents. 

I know Microsoft prides themselves on commitment to their consumers; I would think this would include protecting the innocence of our children.  I would think that they would want to do their due diligence to ensure that they are doing everything in their power to protect our children from online predators.  

I am asking for public support to help protect our children!  My son may have been a “lucky one” to have not been physically touched but our life has changed in a moments notice and as a parent I am fighting for all of the other children and parents whose stories end more tragically.  This person chose the wrong family the day they decided to call our home and ruin our sense of security - I intend to take action to make sure others don't have to experience what we did. 

I truly hope you will do what's right and help me in this fight!  



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