Roblox, a massive multiplayer online platform for user-generated games, announced on Thursday its plans to go public. As part of its Securities Exchange Commission S-1 filing, the company—which has exploded in growth during the pandemic, especially with children—admitted that child porn on the platform is a big risk to the company's future. Roblox sales increased by 68 percent to $588.7 million in the first nine months of this year, according to the filing.
"While we have dedicated technology and trained human moderator staff that can detect and remove sexual content involving children, there have been instances where such content has been uploaded," the filing stated. Future non-compliance with federal laws against hosting child pornography "could significantly harm our reputation, create criminal liability, and could be costly and time consuming to address or defend. We may also be subject to additional criminal liability related to child pornography or child sexual exploitation under other domestic and international laws and regulations."
The filing also outlines the risk of adults grooming kids on the Roblox platform: "While we devote considerable resources to prevent this from occurring, we are unable to prevent all such interactions from taking place." It's been a problem for years: In 2018, a six year old player stumbled into a "sex room" on Roblox, and in September 2020, a 48 year old man was arrested and charged for allegedly coercing an 8-year-old girl into sending him explicit videos of herself.
It also mentions "dedicated technology and trained human moderator staff" that the platform employs to prevent child sexual abuse materials; while the filing doesn't elaborate on what those technologies or moderation practices are, Roblox is one of several platforms using Microsoft's "Project Artemis," a system that reviews chatroom conversations, rates them based on whether they're a grooming risk, and flags those ratings to human moderators for review.
Roblox did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Roblox is a game marketed to kids and mostly played by minors, but—like Lego, Minecraft and other open-world building brands—it has a large adult fan base, too. And like any platform that thrives on user-generated content, sex found a way in. Even though sexual content isn't allowed on Roblox, removing it is a game of whack-a-mole, as Fast Company's investigation into sex groups on the platform earlier this year revealed: when one group is removed, another pops up in its place. There’s a ton of Roblox-themed porn uploaded to tube sites like Pornhub, where users create and record sex scenes in-game with other users.
As the Roblox S-1 makes clear, child porn and the safety of its underage users are not just potential legal risks, but a risk to its reputation as a "safe and civil environment for children," which is "very important to our success."
"For example, we have experienced negative media publicity related to content that developers produce for, or the conduct of users on, our platform that may be deemed illicit, explicit, profane, or otherwise objectionable," Roblox writes. "Although such activities are in violation of our terms and policies and we attempt to block objectionable material, we are unable to prevent all such violations from occurring."
The S-1 also notes that Roblox doesn't use encryption for communications on its platform, which could potentially make any "data security incident" worse. The S-1 does not indicate that Roblox plans to introduce encryption in the future.
As Motherboard has reported, since players are able to purchase and sell items on Roblox for real money, it is a target for hackers.