More children show photos on net

28 December 2004
By Louise Hogan

MORE Irish children are displaying their photographs on the internet which can lead to strangers discovering their location, an expert has warned.
Rachel O’Connell of the University of Central Lancashire said children needed to use more “critical reasoning” when considering giving anyone their picture or passing out contact details.

Ms O’Connell, who is working on a new internet site websafecrackers.com to ensure children form a more “critical reasoning” when using technology, said the latest development involved children uploading pictures onto the internet from their mobile phones.

“It is going to become a much bigger issue as the ease with which people can send photos from their phones to immediately be published on the net carries a risk,” said Ms O’Connell, who also worked to establish world-renowned Irish database COPINE to help identify children in abuse pictures on the internet. The concern about cyber stalking and online grooming by paedophiles has grown rapidly with the onslaught of the internet and mobile phone technologies.

Ms O’Connell, who is the director of the Cyberspace Research Unit at the university, said there had been a strong safety campaign in Britain, and similarly in Ireland, emphasising the dangers of giving out personal information like phone numbers.

The website consultant said that out of a group of 11-year-old children surveyed this year, there was a decline in the number of children giving out their personal information.

“However, there was an increase of around 6% reported in children giving out their photos. A key message to get across is that a photo is like an identity; if you can see the picture, you can see the kid,” she said, with many children receive camera phones for Christmas.

“For example they may unwittingly be giving out location information when they send a photograph of yourself and a friend, as a bus might be passing and it might say an area, or there might be a street name.”

She warned that adults with a sexual interest in children can look at the portfolios for chat rooms, that often contain pictures, to judge if they might want to contact them.

Ms O’Connell, who is working on the website project with Microsoft, said young adults need to consider who is receiving the picture and what kind of information it contains. “It is not only users out there with really bad intent. People can take a picture, modify it so the person has a big nose, and use it to bully. We need to make sure they are aware of such an issue and what can be implemented to measure the risk.”

Young people adapted quickly to new technologies, such as bluetooth which allows people pass information via mobiles over short distances.

“The whole ethos of websafecrackers is to educate and increase the critical reasoning scenario of children,” said Ms O’Connell.

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