Sexual chat programs
Still, as the Skout case showed, there are several recent trends that have heightened the concerns of child-safety experts: the rise of smartphones, which are harder for parents to monitor; location-oriented services, which are the darling of Net companies seeking more ad revenue from local businesses; and the rapid proliferation in phone and tablet apps, which don’t always make clear what data they are using and distributing.A solid system for defending against online predators requires both oversight by trained employees and intelligent software that not only searches for improper communication but also analyzes patterns of behavior, experts said.Such efforts generally start with automated screening for inappropriate language and exchanges of personal information, and extend to using the records of convicted pedophiles’ online chats to teach the software what to seek out.Yet even though defensive techniques are now available and effective they can be expensive.They can also alienate some of a site’s target audience — especially teen users who expect more freedom of expression.While many top sites catering to young children are quite vigilant, the same can’t be said for the burgeoning array of online options for the 13- to 18-year-old set.
Metaverse Chief Executive Amy Pritchard said that in five years her staff only intercepted something terrifying once, about a month ago, when a man on a discussion board for a major media company was asking for the email address of a young site user.
“There are companies out there that are doing a very good job, working within the confines of what they have available,” said Brooke Donahue, a supervisory special agent with an FBI team devoted to Internet predators and child pornography.
“There are companies out there that are more concerned about profitability.” Two recent incidents are raising new questions about companies’ willingness to invest in safety.
Other sites aimed at kids agree that such crises are rarities.
Sites aimed at those under 13 are very different from those with large teen audiences.
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Sites that operate with such software still should have one professional on safety patrol for every 2,000 users online at the same time, said Sacramento-based Metaverse Mod Squad, a moderating service.