A small blank square and a blinking cursor. A window through which the entire world exists. You only have to say the right word – any word – and your every desire will be delivered.
This isn’t some magic genie lamp. It’s Google, Bing, and every other search engine on the Internet. We live in a world where every home is tapped into a vast sea of information, images, videos and more. It’s an ocean filled with exotic islands, glorious and strange creatures, and even demons and monsters. Traveling to the wrong place can bring very real tragedy and horror to a family, and traveling there is as simple as typing in the wrong word into that little square box.
Then there’s the question of those monsters and demons. What are they, where are they, and how dangerous are they? Do parents have enough protections in place to keep children safe, or are children provided with open opportunity every day to walk too close to the dangerous jaws of those beasts – predators just waiting for the right opportunity and for the right child.
During the last decade or so, I’ve worked as an SEO consultant and have had the dubious pleasure of scouring through some of the words and phrases that people decide to type into that little white box. I can tell you that the experience initially shocked me. It made me realize that the human mind is not as civilized as we would like to believe.
Exploring the Problem of Child Pornography and Predators
When it comes to the problem of child pornography and child predators, things have only gotten worse. According to apublished in April of 2012, arrests for possession of child pornography increased by over 30% from 2006 to 2009, a trend that paralleled the growth of peer-to-peer file sharing technologies.
Exploring such a dark issue isn’t easy. Poking a stick at the boogie man that lies in wait underneath the bed is one of those things that never turn out good for the protagonist in horror movies. However, in the real world, you don’t expect that there will actually be a boogie man under the bed.
Unfortunately, there are lots of boogie men in this world of ours, and by opening this portal – this little white box – into the homes of nearly every family throughout the world, we’ve provided those boogie men with a perfect pathway into the minds and hearts of children. It’s become a dangerous doorway through which far too many children have slipped through, never to return.
How Bad is the Child Predators Problem?
There are more cases of children getting abducted and exploited then you might want to believe.
In 2002 on New Year’s Day, 13 year old Alicia Kozakiewicz was abducted by Scott Tyree and held in his sadistic basement lair for four days. She was raped, beaten, and had images of the entire episode spread to other child predators throughout the Internet. After receiving a tip from one man in Florida who had seen her photos online and had heard about the abduction on the news, the FBI eventually located Tyree and burst into his home, rescuing Alicia from her nightmare.
Then there was the case in 2010 of Danielle Wade, a 15 year old girl in rural Virginia who started chatting on her smartphone with a boy who she thought was 16 years old. The “boy” turned out to be 38 year old Edward Bracken, who drove 400 miles to lure Danielle out of her home and abduct her. Police eventually located Danielle at Bracken’s home and arrested both Bracken and his girlfriend for unlawful contact with a minor.
In both cases, the girls had been lured into their horrible predicament through a methodical grooming process that sex predators use to capture the interests of impressionable young, teenagers – earning their trust and in some cases even “love”, before making the final attempt to abduct the child.
These cases make it into the news every now and then, but how bad is the problem really?
To better understand the reality of this issue, I decided to go straight to the federal agency responsible for investigating these cases – the very heroes that often bust down those doors and save young victims from their captors.
The FBI Story – The Problem is Getting Worse
I first approached Boston FBI media coordinator Special Agent Greg Comcowich in July of 2012 to see if he could help put me in touch with someone that could assist with this story.
Greg was immediately helpful. He said that this was a topic that is very important to the FBI right now, and one that they work tirelessly to inform the public about. He immediately put me in touch with Russ Brown, the supervisor of the FBI Cyber Crimes Division in Boston.
Our conversation took place via a conference call in October of 2012.
My first question was the most pressing – what are the 2 or 3 most significant threats to children on the Internet? Russ didn’t even pause before answering.
“The two most significant threats are predators exploiting children for the production of child pornography, and predators grooming children for direct contact exploitation. There has been a rise in what we deem as “sextortion” cases, where the child is talked into producing and transmitting explicit videos or photos to the person [that’s] either pretending to be a child or grooming the child. Then, these explicit photos are used back against the child to create more photos. So, they send the image to the bad guy. The bad guy says, ‘Hey that’s great, I want more.’ The child says, ‘I’m not sure about producing more.’ The guy says, ‘Well if you don’t produce more, I’m gonna send this image to your friends, your family, your school.’ So, then the victim feels embarrassed and obligated to try and keep it quiet.”
I asked Russ if the goal is usually just to collect as many pictures as possible?
“Correct, and there have even been cases where they just want to inflict pain and suffering on the victim just to cause turmoil. “
I’ve always thought that these days, kids are well-trained about not trusting people online. How are these people able to so easily gain the trust of children?
“Well, it’s not necessarily in one session. It’s not like the kids meet this person online once and the person says, ‘Hey, send me a picture.’ It’s a grooming process that takes time. Predators pose as a child, meet the child online, or they bump into the same person over and over in the chat room. It’s a process where the comfort level of the victim just lowers those boundaries more and more. Now this person [becomes] a friend or a confidante, or it can even turn into a boyfriend. Then, there are more intimate discussions. It’s a grooming process, so it’s not just meeting somebody once and then they turn [photos] over. That can happen, but with children that have been at least educated on the process, they can still become victims because they become emotionally attached to the predator.”
In the past 5 years, has the problem been getting worse?
“I can’t really say that it’s gotten worse or better. There’s such a large volume of predators out there, it’s really astounding. It’s really hard to put that into any kind of context, just because there is such a large volume of them out there. Before the Internet, most child predators had to have direct contact. So you were really limited with what that predator was willing to do to establish that contact. Now, the Internet serves as a facility where you can have hundreds or thousands of miles, international connections and complete anonymity. You can pretend to be another child of the same age with the same interests and everything else. Another hint as to the magnitude is if you look at any sex registry. There are a good portion of those individuals that were convicted of child porn.”
Does the FBI work directly with sites like Facebook or Google?
“We do not have a partnership or work in conjunction with any social media sites. They have their business of social media and we have our business of investigating federal crimes. They obviously cooperate with legal servings. So, if during an investigation we identify an individual as having information or using a social website, then we will come up with a legal process, be it a subpoena or a search warrant, and serve that on the social media company who will then, by law, turn over what information is sought back to us. Most of the social media sites typically have some sort of disclaimer that they will not post child pornography and if they find it they’ll take it down and kick the person off or something of that nature. They’re more than willing to cooperate with authorities, given the proper legal service.”
So, does the FBI depend on the company to monitor content and hopefully identify illegal material and report it?
“Those are private companies, so you’ll have to ask them about that. But, I don’t believe there are any laws on the books that force them to report anything from their own self monitoring.”
This answer surprised me. There is this notion among a lot of folks online that the federal government will immediately learn about cases of child pornography that get posted to sites or hosted online, or that get discovered on Corporate, internal networks. I asked a second time whether the FBI at least has some form of law enforcement liaison with the major social networks to watch for such illegal activity?
“Maybe we’re not conveying this properly. They have the ability to report things if they want to, but there’s no legal requirement for them to report something. We will contact the company if we discover something through an investigation that leads us to believe that there is some type of content being held in their servers that we want to get through legal process for our investigation.”
At this point in the interview, Greg interjected to fill in the details.
“Let me give you an example. Someone using the name ‘Joe Smith’ is on a chat room or gaming board. We don’t know who Joe Smith is. After we become aware that Joe Smith is doing ‘x’, we serve a subpoena to the Internet service provider, Facebook, Google, whatever it is, asking for further info about Joe Smith. They might not even know who Joe Smith is, but they might be able to give us information that provides additional identifying information that will allow us to continue our investigation to determine who Joe Smith is.”
I was somewhat surprised that the FBI is so passive in its efforts to track down the threat of child predators. So I asked whether the FBI at least attempts to search the Internet itself for cases where child pornography exists. This time Russ responded.
“No, we do not go out and just troll the Internet, and we do absolutely no monitoring whatsoever. Usually, we’re responding to a report from a victim or some other means that there’s some type of child pornography activity, and that’s what we go off of. And there’s so much of it that there’s really no need to go out and try to look for it.”
Again, Greg spoke up to elaborate.
“We get asked that question a lot. How are we policing this? Let me answer it this way. Our rule, our guideline, our policy is simply that we can’t monitor people’s activity without having some indication of criminal activity. So really, the cornerstone of this is an indication of criminal activity. That’s when we go out and say okay, now we can start an investigation. I think it’s important to say that because of a perception that we are monitoring the Internet. The answer is that we have strict guidelines. We need an indication of criminal activity before it can be triggered. I mean, you can see where people probably want us to be very aggressive in this particular thing, but at the same time we have our own guidelines.”
Liberty advocates would probably cheer on such answers, but as a parent of children that are directly in the crosshairs, I found the answers somewhat troubling. I always liked to think of the FBI as aggressively scouring through the Internet and protecting my kids by proactively posing as young children to lure in predators, or writing creative image-scanning scripts to isolate child pornography online and go after the offenders.
These answers told me that our hope, as parents, actually exists with the sites and companies themselves – Google, Facebook, and others. Our sanctity from perverts rests upon the shoulders of the people doing the monitoring privately. So, the next question was – are there people doing that monitoring?
Are there teams of crack-shot IT experts keeping a close eye on what gets posted to Facebook, or images discovered by Google images? Do those folks immediately report child porn aficionados to the feds?
The truth is actually somewhat appalling.
Who is Watching Out for Wolves?
I first went to Google to ask about their efforts dealing with child pornography that shows up within search engine results or images. The response came in hours – not days – and surprised me.
“Thanks for reaching out; however we aren’t able to participate at this time. I apologize for the inconvenience.”
Thankfully, the folks at Microsoft were far more willing to discuss this sensitive issue as related to the Bing search engine. Microsoft responded to my questions by describing what they called a “three pronged approach” toward online safety involving “education and guidance; and partnerships with government, industry, law enforcement, and other key organizations to help build safer, more trusted computing experiences.”
One of the most interesting technological solutions described in Microsoft’s response to my query was something called “PhotoDNA”, produced as a collaboration between Microsoft and Dr. Hany Farid of Dartmouth. Microsoft described the technology via email.
“[PhotoDNA is] a technology that aids in finding and removing some of ‘worst of the worst’ images of child sexual exploitation from the Internet. Following Microsoft’s donation of the PhotoDNA technology to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, NCMEC established a signature-based program for online service providers to help disrupt the spread of child pornography online. As a participant of NCMEC’s PhotoDNA Initiative, Microsoft implemented the PhotoDNA technology in its services, including Bing and SkyDrive, to compare images publicly shared or found on Bing and SkyDrive with the signatures from NCMEC.
The implementation of PhotoDNA started with the indexing process for image search in Bing (in order to help prevent Bing from rendering these child pornography images in its image search results) and on newly-uploaded photos on SkyDrive (to better disrupt the abuse of SkyDrive for sharing these images). These deployments are worldwide and we plan to continue to expand our deployment over time.”
This is a spectacular effort on the part of Microsoft, working directly with NCMEC to keep those “worst of the worst” images from proliferating throughout the Internet through Microsoft’s services. I’m leaning more toward using Bing over Google every day…
Microsoft further reported that through its use of “PhotoDNA”, it had discovered “3,500 matches” from using NCMEC signatures to identify child pornography, and duly reports all matches.
“When we find a match in Bing, we report the URL to NCMEC.”
As a parent, this sort of proactive approach to shut down child pornography and exploitation using the Internet, right at the source, provides a bit of hope that at least there are still some companies out there willing to take a strong stance against child exploitation online.
Facebook referred me to its feature article on the site titled, “Meet the Safety Team”, about Facebook’s “User Operations (UO)” group. The article specifically references how the group responds to cases of child exploitation discovered on Facebook.
“There are several tactics that my team uses to surface this kind of content when it appears, but one of the most important ways is by reports from people who may accidentally encounter it. When we receive and verify a report of child exploitation material on the site, we immediately take action. We relay every offending image, along with relevant account information, to the U.S. National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). NCMEC is a non-profit organization designed to help protect children that was established by the U.S Congress and partially funded by the Department of Justice. We also work with the Child Exploitation Online Protection Centre (CEOP), the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) in the UK, and a number of anti-human trafficking organizations worldwide.”
In the article, Charlotte Carnevale Willner, Facebook’s Safety Team Lead of User Operations, wrote that cases of child exploitation showing up on Facebook are “extremely rare”. I asked Facebook directly just how many cases of child exploitation have been identified on the site. The response was short: “We do not publicly disclose those numbers.”
This answer really appeared across the board. Google’s response made this clear, as did responses (or lack thereof) from sites like Twitter, Pinterest, and many others. It’s a topic that many people don’t want to acknowledge or publicly discuss.
With that in mind, I decided to explore how corporations or businesses themselves behave when they stumble across such content on their own networks. What I discovered was actually rather shocking.
Who Does the Policing?
The first question that many people have is what sort of technology or methods that major corporations use to identify when images that might represent child exploitation appear on their own networks.
Hendrik Montag-Schwappacher is the Supervisor of the iGuard filter database department at Edgewave in San Diego, California. Edgewave is a content filtering company that works to help companies and businesses allow access to the Internet while blocking access to inappropriate material.
I asked Hendrik how much of the filtering that takes place at major corporations is conducted electronically, and how much is done by humans.
Our solution is based on human review. Our analysts review each web site that is later incorporated into the filtering solution and applies it in up to three of 80 categories. There are other approaches in the market, but we believe that the accuracy of a well trained human analyst allows for an extremely reliable classification of web content.
The high number of categories allows for a very granular approach of monitoring internet usage according the different needs of our customers.
Hendrik further elaborated that when Edgewave comes across material that represents a form of child abuse or exploitation, that material gets reported to the authorities through a third party, much like NCMEC in the United States.
In general, child abuse material falls into one of the most commonly blocked categories: pornography. Additionally, whenever we identify child abuse material, we automatically report it to the IWF (Internet Watch Foundation) – an organization this company has been a member of for 5 years.
However, when it comes to individual clients that take over the monitoring process utilizing only Edgewave hardware solutions, like its iPrism product, the reporting responsibility falls out of the hands of Edgewave and into the hands of the client. In other words, those clients need to self-report abuses that take place within their own company.
Once iPrism is installed in a school or a company we have little insight into the actual usage since our customers in general don’t share log files with us. But in order to prevent any liability, companies have a strong incentive to report the usage of illegal material directly to authorities.
Covering Up the Dirty Laundry
During this investigation, I reached out to as many contacts and sources as I could in order to get a better feel for how well companies do when it comes to reporting incidences of child pornography on their systems.
It’s one thing to count on the FBI to track down and arrest child predators, but if incidences don’t get reported, how can we expect the authorities in any country to deal with those predators and get them off the Internet?
During my search for sources, I encountered a person who agreed to be interviewed regarding his own experiences working for a psychiatric hospital in the UK as an IT help desk engineer. The incident in under discussion here involved the Hutton Centre at St. Lukes Hospital in Middlesbrough in the UK.
In the case reported in the few media reports that covered it, staff at Hutton Centre were investigated for using email to share pornographic images. The report stated that seven staff were sacked and four received written warnings.
According to this source, who requested to remain anonymous, the case actually included child pornography as well as regular pornography, and that the material was provided to the patients, not just shared between staff.
According to this source, these sorts of things are probably covered up, at least in the UK, due to the massive Cleveland Child Sex Abuse Scandal that took place there in the 1980s, and the fact that companies want to avoid a repeat of that past fallout.
For the purposes of this interview, I will call this source “Tim”.
I asked Tim how the inappropriate material was initially discovered at the Hutton Centre where he worked.
Well, you always got strange vibes off of people, so it could have been going on for years and people are just like, ‘gosh, that guy’s strange’ or whatever. But, it was in the middle of 2007, as I remember it, when there were concurrent things that happened. First, someone had a problem with their PC, and one of the guys went out to have a look at it, and alarm bells went off then. He basically found material that shouldn’t have been there, and it was basically wiped on the spot and reimaged and it was reported to our manager. But, at the same time there was an issue with emails going around, and that’s where this stemmed from – extremely inappropriate emails across a wide range of different topics. That’s what kind of alerted us.
In fact, these weren’t just emails between staff, but involved inappropriate material – including child pornography – spread between staff and patients.
Well, what it was is that the illicit images, which ranged from normal pornography to illegal pornography, were acquired by particular members of staff and then given to patients. There was one patient that even had their own computer, and had to have its own access to the Internet, so it had to be completely isolated from the rest of the corporate network. The whole idea of this person having their own computer raised massive alarm bells at IT, but we were overruled at the senior Doctor level. It just makes my jaw drop thinking about it now.
I asked how patients in a mental hospital could be provided with access to external Internet and email, and Tim further explained.
Yes, well we’re talking people that you wouldn’t normally consider to be patients. There are different psychiatric units around the country as part of the system, and the one around here isn’t for the absolute lunatic, but basically for the kinds that don’t really get into the papers. Within this psychiatric unit there was an inpatient department and an outpatient department. The day treatment center was for outpatients, the inpatients were there for maybe a couple of weeks or a couple of months. Then, there was the more secure area there for the sexual perverts that had been considered not to be accepted in society by the courts. That’s where they were, and that’s where this activity was going on.
In other words in 2007, a psychiatric hospital in the UK that was responsible for the care and treatment of recovering sex offenders, was actually actively providing sexual perverts with the very material they craved – including child pornography, according to this particular source.
I asked Tim how the company responded to this once IT had uncovered it, and whether they reported it to the authorities.
The reaction of the hospital trust was that it had to be downplayed, probably largely because of this previous scandal [Cleveland sex abuse scandal]. The police were on board with this as well, that’s why there was only one guy charged. That’s why there were all of these people suspended or sacked and none of them were named.
I asked Tim to share how he first learned that the material being provided to the patients included child exploitation images.
Yeah, there was one morning when I came in there was a big meeting, and we were basically told that we were to say absolutely nothing. At first I had absolutely no idea what was going on. Then I spoke with my manager and they told me what had happened. There was a bit of an atmosphere of, ‘I told you so,’ but it was probably more like, ‘I’m surprised that it had taken so long.’
The police were only involved on an advisory basis, basically as the legal guys to say what could or couldn’t be done about it. It was extremely controlled at the top as to what was going on. This was in 2007, but the media report was only last year, so it took some time before it was dealt with internally. But no, I don’t think the police were informed officially about the child pornography. But that’s not surprising to me, I don’t have a whole lot of faith in institutions anyway, so….
Finishing off our phone conversation, I asked Tim to speculate on why he thought the company would cover up such horrible material that really should have been shared with the authorities – particularly since the material included the abuse of real children.
I think that’s why they chose to cover it up. I think it’s the fact that there were people involved that were charged of sexual offenses, who were under their care. If it hadn’t been covered up and it had come out that they were actually providing them with material, it would have been an absolute shit storm. And of course the historical stuff with the Cleveland scandal.
This situation – a situation that may very well happen internally at companies far more often than the public may realize – is a stark reminder that child exploitation still remains a dark side of the human psyche that people would much rather turn a blind eye to than to face it straight on.
Getting Proactive Against Child Exploitation
It is striking just how widespread the issue of child exploitation and the distribution of pornography involving children may be. It is troubling to consider that there could be a large part of the picture that even law enforcement isn’t privy to – and goes under the radar, continuing on as a massive threat toward all children that dare to spend time on the Internet.
Heading back to the FBI, I asked Russ how spending so much time on cases like these affected him personally.
“I think the biggest affect is that it really opens your eyes as to the vast number of predators that are out there, and the extent that they will actually abuse and harm children. For most normal people, you would never think that because most people think, ‘Well I would never do that to a kid, so why would anyone else ever do it?’ But really, it makes you more aware of the types of people that are out there that are willing to do this, and the actual large number that are out there.”
I explained to Russ and Greg about my own observations conducting SEO research, and coming across some of the disturbing searches – in many cases involving children – that many people type into the search engines.
“Yeah, and I can kind of understand, because some people are just curious to see what comes back when they conduct such a search, but there are certainly going to be certain people that are absolutely focused on that search.”
The truth is that the FBI is not quite as passive as it might appear. Just because the Feds are restricted from monitoring online activity without just cause, it doesn’t mean there aren’t enough leads to keep them extremely busy. Russ explained how the FBI focuses much of its time when it comes to tracking down child predators.
“Yes, it’s active investigations on leads and reports from victims and what we’ve found on victim computers. Typically, it’s not just one contact with one predator. There’s usually more than one. Then, when we go in and arrest a predator, usually we identify additional victims, and then other predators that they’ve been talking with and creating child porn with. So, it’s an endless web.”
Greg went on to explain how the FBI does try to take a proactive approach by uncovering such leads and then tracking down every single child predator that the first predator had been in contact with. According to Russ and Greg, this activity alone keeps the cyber crime division extremely busy.
“When you say it opens up a web, this is where it kind of becomes proactive. I know it seems like we’re telling people, you know, we don’t monitor and we’re passive, but this is how it’s proactive. We go and get one guy, and as Russ said, we open up his computer and he’s trading pornography with 25 other guys. Well, those guys don’t get a free pass. All of a sudden, we’ve got 25 new cases. Each of those guys are going to get investigated. Each time we go and search each one of those 25 computers, he’s trading with another 25. Then, we’re on that path with those other 25. So again, as much as we say we’re not monitoring, we’re still doing proactive things just out of the fruits of what we’re already doing. It’s just like peeling back the layers of an onion.”
It seems that even without many companies turning in cases of child pornography on their own internal networks, there are enough cases produced from the sort of reporting that does take place – like the effort described by Microsoft and its PhotoDNA technology – that the FBI is already overwhelmed with criminals out there busy actively exploiting children. According to Russ, it is a problem that is so large that it can’t even be put into any sort of context.
How Parents Can Protect Their Kids
The problem can feel overwhelming and terrifying for parents. If there is such a massive undercurrent of filth and perversion targeting children on the Internet, is it even safe to let kids go online? Is it responsible to allow them to walk up to that portal – that doorway to the cyber world – and go exploring?
Hendrik explained his take on the issue with some simple advice that lays the responsibility for a child’s safety squarely with parents.
The great variety of activities on the internet can bring both a massive amount of positive, but unfortunately, negative aspects as well. Parents should do everything in their power to make sure their children don’t get themselves into a potentially harmful situation in the physical world and the same rules should certainly apply for the world online as well.
When you think about it, this is the crux of the situation. Parents will do everything they can to make sure their kids look both ways to cross the street, or to make sure to wear a helmet when riding a bike, but how many parents truly take the same precautionary approach to their child’s use of the Internet?
How many parents take the threats seriously enough?
I asked Russ for what advice he would offer parents.
“I’d say the number one thing parents can do is talk to their kids. Make sure you have an open discussion about the potential threats that are on the Internet. Not only contacting a stranger, but also pointing out that who they meet may not approach them right away and may try to develop a friendship and things of that nature. So, you need to continuously have that open dialogue with your child, making sure that they have an understanding as the years go by, because every year that they grow up, the threats will slightly change.
Secondly, make sure that you know what they’re doing online. Make sure you’re completely involved, and kind of watch what they’re doing online. What sites have they gone to, who are they talking to. One easy way is to make sure the computer is in a common area so they can’t really hide things. And if you do see them sort of starting to flip the screen, that’s an indicator that they’re trying to hide something.
You can say to your child that you can use the computer and you can use email, but I’m going to see what’s going on.”
I explained to Russ that there are many people – even readers at MakeUseOf – that any time we post about applications that monitor the activity of children online, immediately complain that it’s a complete invasion of privacy.
Russ answered without pause.
“Well, you know that’s your child. So, is it a child or is it an equal adult with the same developed emotional capabilities as an adult? If you’re empowering your child at the age of twelve to be on an equal level as you are, then you aren’t really a parent anymore. Technically, they aren’t really mature enough to handle that stuff.”
Russ and Greg both pointed out that the online threat isn’t just the standard web browser on a computer. Kids can access the Internet from anywhere and at any time these days.
Greg explained in greater detail as our half-hour phone conference drew to a close.
“What Russ and I and others in the office have been trying to do when we do these interviews is to change the notion about where the threat is coming from. I think people are now beginning to grasp that phones and tablets are where the kids are beginning to be online. The Wii, the Xboxs, etc. Our point of emphasis has been, any of these devices can be exploited.”
What Can You Do?
The Internet of today is no longer your father’s Internet. It is a growing and ever-changing entity that permeates throughout every aspect of life. Kids access it from game consoles, smart phones and tablets. There isn’t even the need for a computer any more, and predators that troll for kids to exploit need look no further than chat rooms and discussion boards on the favorite social media sites that kids of all ages frequent.
Hendrik said it best – if you would be willing to do everything within your power to keep your children safe in the physical world, it only makes sense to do the same in the virtual world. Talk to your kids and help them understand that such people exist in the world. Don’t ignore it. Because a child that understands the terrible realities of the cyber world will be better armored against those predators that seek to do them harm. Clearly, the FBI and others can only do so much to protect our kids. It is up to parents and guardians to do the rest.
Make use of all of the technology tools at your disposal – monitor what your kids are doing whenever they’re online. Do you know who they’re chatting with? Shouldn’t you know? Remember, that “online” means smartphones and tablets too. Keeping a log of sites they visit does not invade their privacy – it protects their lives. As a parent, it’s your responsibility to be aware of what your child is doing when they walk through that little square portal called the search engine. Look out for our follow-up article on what tools you can use today to help your kids use the Internet safely.
Just this year, the FBI established a great new website for teachers and parents called FBI Cyber Surf Islands, to work with kids in 3rd through 8th grade. It’s a kid-friendly website that kids will enjoy using, but with the guidance of teachers and parents, it’ll teach them the importance of staying guard while surfing online.
Beyond the technology and education, the most important thing is to talk to your kids about these dangers. They are real and shouldn’t be ignored. In the end, you are really the only thing that stands between a safe and secure child on the Internet, and the destroyed innocence of a sexually exploited child.
Image Credits: Attentive Teenage Girl via Shutterstock, FBI Agent at Work via FBI.gov,FBI Sex Predator Listings,Cyber Security via ShutterstockInformation via Shutterstock,Very Cool Young Man via shutterstock,Daughter Listening to Mother via Shutterstock,Illustration of Corrider via Shutterstock