WebKinz – How NOT To Cater To The Young

If you have yet to run into WebKinz, don’t feel bad – it may just mean that your age is measured in double digits. For the uninitiated, WebKinz are stuffed animals that each come with a secret code that uniquely identify them. Armed with their stuffed animals, kids go to the WebKinz site, create a login, and adopt their pets by providing the secret code. They can adopt as many pets as they’d like (or as many as their parents will buy for them!), and the pets live online happily in a house in a virtual world (with a Flash front end). Kids earn KinzCash (virtual currency used in Webkinz World) to buy stuff for their pets (pamper them, build nicer houses, buy food, keep them clean and healthy, and so on). In reality this means that the kids ignore their stuffed animals and only play with the online equivalents. But, it’s clean harmless fun, and the system is designed to be very kid safe.
And one of my kids got a WebKinz this week, and right away wanted to play with it online. No problem, I helped him get set up, and he started buying furniture for his pet, and more. But then he wanted to access Webkinz World from the computer in his bedroom. My kids are allowed to go online with supervision only, and so the computers that they can access alone are very locked down. My firewall grants access as appropriate, and what is appropriate for younger kids is a whitelist system – basically, they have no access except for sites that we explicitly allow.
And that’s where things become problematic. WebKinz uses a whole lot of IP addresses, some contiguous ranges and others not, and some in whole different IP ranges. Fortunately, WebKinz has a Technical Issues page which lists the IP address that need to be allowed. Unfortunately, the list is completely wrong! Heck, the IP address that WebKinz resolves to is not even on the list! So, I had him try and try again while I watched the firewall logs, and I gradually opened up the addresses needed until all worked. That was yesterday, but now it won’t work again. Why? A whole different set of IP addresses are now in use!
Really, this is pathetic. WebKinz is targeting young children, and it is very likely that filters and parental controls are going to be an issue. Is it really that hard to A) find a fixed set of IP addresses (preferably a sequential range), B) don’t keep changing them, and then C) actually post correct information on your web site? Oh, and just to make it a bit more frustrating, try finding a way to contact support or send feedback!
Too bad. The concept is nice, but the implementation leaves much to be desired. If you have young-uns, consider yourself warned.

8 responses to “WebKinz – How NOT To Cater To The Young”

  1. Jim Priest Avatar
    Jim Priest

    Thanks for the warning! We got two Webkinz yesterday. We hopped on the site but it was really slow so we delayed registration for a bit 🙂
    I’m struggling with the filtering as well. How do you handle the firewall? Is it just setup to filter their traffic and not yours? Right now I’m using a Firefox plugin I found which basically whitelists them to certain URL’s but I run into the same issue – if the URL changes then it hoses everything.

  2. Ben Forta Avatar
    Ben Forta

    I’ve tried them all, every plug-in, piece of software, filtering service, and more. And none of them work properly.
    So, I do it the brute force way, at my firewall. Basically, I have rules set up that block some machines and allow others (and some that vary based on login). And for those blocked machines I selectively allow specific IP address, domains, etc. (This is for the younger kids, my older kids are granted more access and have less restrictions, as is appropriate for them).
    This gives me the greatest flexibility. I can tweak rules as needed (SonicWall allows using FQDNs in rules), and I can even do it remotely (VPN into my firewall). Of course, when a site uses IP addresses instead of domain names and host names, and uses them inconsistently – well, then things get trickier.
    — Ben

  3. Jim Priest Avatar
    Jim Priest

    Thanks for the info! I’ll have to look and see what my router firewall will do. I could always setup something else… I ran into another one yesterday – my 8 year old got an MP3 player and we we looking at the Amazon MP3 site and she typed in "Disney" and I’m thinking that is safe – but no – about 1/2 way down the page there is the "F" word… So that’s another one I’m going to have to watch… Ah – the joys of parenting 🙂

  4. Petunia Avatar

    Thanks for the warning. If I plan on getting a Webkinz anytime soon I’ll know who to call first.

  5. John Avatar

    My daughters have several webkinz. I have their computer user accounts blocked at an ip level from the computer. I as an admin have to grant them access to any site. Webkinz was a huge problem and still is. Now my wife sits with them on her account and lets them access the site while she watches.
    Disney does the same thing with various IP addresses, as does Millsberry, but at least with those 2 they are consistant. Once you plug in the range, it stays in that range.

  6. Al Avatar

    Thanks for that. Good information to have.
    Fortunately, the only computer the kids can use that has net access is right next to mine.

  7. Phillip Kerman Avatar
    Phillip Kerman

    Sounds like fun–my kid is 7 and it’s apparent that I have to address it somehow because the current approach of always being in the same room isn’t working anymore.
    By the way, be sure to add:
    to your firewall!

  8. Mike Collins Avatar
    Mike Collins

    Thanks. My son has a bunch of them. He loves the feature where you can visit your friends house.
    I need to get on the filtering. I trust my kids it’s the friends with older siblings that will be the ones that will break the ice.

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