Global Consulting firm User Centric recently conducted a study on effectiveness of parental controls in electronic devices. 20 parents and 20 children were gathered, with the parents asked to set up parental controls and children asked to bypass them. The results will shock you. Well not really, I just wanted to feel like the nighttime news hook story commercial voice over guy. The results are pretty much what you'd expect. Confusion about ratings and how indeed to setup the controls themselves led to a 47% failure rate on video game consoles, with lesser degrees of failure for V-chips, mobile phones, and DVRs. I take two things from these results. First, parents need to better understand the ratings systems before they start trying to restrict access to them, and User Centric needs to perform another study on parents who aren't stupid. Hit the jump for User Centric's press release, discovered via GamePolitics.
Study Finds Usability Problems with Parental Controls OAKBROOK TERRACE, IL, SEPTEMBER 25, 2007 - Ratings-based parental controls are often used to protect children from exposure to inappropriate media. To compare the usability of common parental controls, Chicago-based usability consultancy User Centric, tested four devices with 20 parents and 20 children ages 9-12.
During individual usability test sessions, all participants were asked to set up parental controls using a television with a V-Chip, a digital video recorder, a game console, and a mobile phone marketed specifically for children under ten. Participants were also asked to rate each device based on ease of use during set up and their confidence in their own success.
* Failure rates were high: 31% (DVR), 36% (mobile phone), 42% (V-Chip), and 47% (game console). Across all four devices, parents and children had similar failure rates when setting up parental controls. Participants who reported prior experience fared no better than those who had no experience. * The relationship between ratings systems and their impact on parental controls was unclear to many participants. When using the V-chip, participants were often uncertain if selecting one rating would be sufficient for blocking the more severe ratings. When using the game console, participants were confused whether their selection represented the highest rating allowed or the lowest rating blocked (despite explanations displayed onscreen). * One third of participants failed to set up parental controls across all the devices. This contrasted sharply with the high confidence ratings given by participant; many participants believed they had successfully activated parental controls when they actually had not. * Several participants failed to set up parental controls because they were unaware that they had to perform an extra step to save and then activate their selection. Parental control interfaces failed to provide sufficient visual cues on whether a specific rating was successfully selected or automatically saved as the current setting.
Overall, User Centric found that participants' lack of understanding about ratings compromised their ability to successfully set up parental controls and that parents may be more confident than they should be that the controls are properly set.