Sexual predators, pornographers, and prostitution rings are capitalizing on the rising popularity of mobile devices and social media to victimize children, police and child safety experts tell USA Today. CyberTipline, the nation’s hotline for reporting sexual exploitation of children, received 223,374 reports in 2010, nearly double the 2009 number. The soaring use of social networks, online games, smartphones, and webcams has translated into “more opportunities for potential offenders to engage with children,” says Ernie Allen of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is testing software that automatically scours seedy websites for evidence of child prostitution. If the technology from start-up DigitalStakeout proves effective, states could use it to monitor Facebook and Twitter for signs of predators stalking children. Children routinely divulge information about themselves across the Web, says John Whitaker of the Georgia bureau’s Child Exploitation and Computer Crimes Unit. Often they do it away from home, on laptops and smartphones. “There is no real way for parents to monitor it all,” he says. Services like Foursquare and Gowalla offer incentives for using a smartphone’s GPS locator to post on Facebook and Twitter where the user is located. This makes it easy for predators to discover a potential victim’s whereabouts.