19 May 2015

Predators targetting children via smartphone apps

From Nine To Noon, 9:11 am on 19 May 2015

Police are reporting an increase in the number of young children being contacted by sexual predators through apps and games on smart phones.

Kathryn Ryan is joined by director of Netsafe Martin Cocker, and former undercover internet detective Brett Lee.

Brett Lee says it is crucial for parents to communicate with their children about what they are doing online.

Brett Lee, a former undercover internet detective in Australia and now cyber safety expert, says it is crucial for parents to communicate with their children about what they are doing online.

Photo: 123RF

The online safety team at the police said they were getting on average two complaints a week about children being targeted by paedophiles online.

They said this was partially due to an increase in the number of games and apps on mobile devices, many of which feature open chat options with other players.

NetSafe director Martin Cocker said the organisation was working closely with police to help combat the issue.

Mr Cocker said as there were now so many apps and games available, it was virtually impossible to police them or force them to increase safety for children.

He said the speed at which they were created also proved problematic.

"By the time a lot of these apps have their trust and safety teams up and operating, they're no longer popular."

Mr Cocker said the apps opened up many kinds of risks for children.

"There is actually quite a lot of harm done just in the online conversations themselves, it doesn't have to go through to a physical meeting to be harmful to a child."

Former undercover internet detective and cyber safety expert, Brett Lee, said smart phones made it more difficult for parents and caregivers to monitor what their children were getting up to on their devices.

"It's become more of a private experience for people because the devices they're using aren't plugged into the wall, they're in their pockets," he said.

"The amount of time people are online has increased, the ages that people can get online has decreased, the places they go and connect has increased, so it does make it harder."

However, Mr Lee said there were things parents could do to reduce the risk to their children.

"It's about talking to our children about what's happening online, knowing as a parent that I have a right to ask my child any question I want when it comes to technology."

"Keeping those lines of communication open is important."

He said setting a time limit for technology use was also a way to reduce the risks.