The software is integrated into a virtual world’s site. If the technology uncovers phrasing, syntax, slang or other patterns in a conversation that match known signs of bullying or sexual predation, it sends an alert to a moderator, who can then “drill down” to look not only at the entirety of the specific conversation, but also at every posting from either participant.
“We can capture a full picture of a user’s history on the game,” Mr. Lintell says.
Of course, the moderation software can't see into the future, and so the only way that it can provide the capacity to look through previous postings of users who type problematic messages is if the virtual worlds store every message that all users type, just in case that user ever later type a message that is prohibited.
Just last year, FBI director Robert Mueller went before Congress to ask that ISPs be forced to keep significant logs on the web histories of their customers, for the sake of the children:
"Records retention by ISPs would be tremendously helpful in giving us a historic basis to make a case on a number of child pornographers who use the Internet to push their pornography" or lure children, Mueller said.
It seems that at least for some Internet companies, especially those with products aimed at children, Congressional action wasn't even necessary.
Sure, cyber-bullying is a big deal. However, that doesn't mean that children don't also deserve a bit of privacy online too. If parents want to install spying software on their children's computers, I suppose that is up to them (although I still think that is wrong), but a service provider shouldn't be doing this at all.
Furthermore, I highly doubt if these companies make it clear that they are logging all messages (which are just a subpoena away should a law enforcement agency ever take an interest) -- and even if they do mention something in their terms of service, we can't expect a 12 year old to be able to understand those sorts of documents.
The 1998 Children's Online Privacy Protection Act is supposed to prevent companies from collecting personally identifiable information about Internet users under the age of 13. I'm not an expert on this law, and so I'll need to go and re-read the statutes -- however, I'm slightly troubled as to how these companies can essentially wiretap their customer's conversations "for their own safety".