Junior has hit the whole web thing hard recently. He and his friends at school have all joined gmail so they can chat with each other, and they are all playing an online game about monsters with so-called 'educational' content.
As far as I can tell the point is to encourage children to buy buy buy under the guise of a kid-friendly and learning-friendly online space. The monsters are made happy by buying them stuff and the model of the game is that you can play free for as long as you wish, but if you don't pay you are excluded from some areas of the game and from many items for sale. You can only send gifts to your friends if you are a member. Membership only costs about $6.00 a month, but that's not really the point. The point is you have to pay to be socially included. I find that more than a little troubling.
The education content is basic at best, and can only be described as a pretext. The game also claims that contact can only be made (through messaging and chat) between people who already know each other's user names outside the game. However, members have space for up to 500 online friends, and you can enter into other people's spaces online and learn their friends' usernames as well - there seems to be no privacy in the game space for limiting your ID to only the friends you wish to show them to.
The kid is loving the game and the interaction with his friends, so I am trying to keep my doubts to myself while still monitoring what's going on. There seems to be an in-built scope for bullying and exclusion in the game. It's obvious to all who has the most friends and who doesn't, for example, quite apart from the membership issue.
It also bothers me that in the 'information for parents' section, it claims that no child can sign up without parental approval. But my kid did. He has his own email address and just entered it into the correct field. There's absolutely nothing in the sign-on form that suggests or requires a kid to get a parent's permission. So that's one outright lie on the site.
A person doens't know how to raise these issues for discussion without raining on the kid's parade of very cute monsters.