Millions of social media photos found on child exploitation sharing sites

Mostly the images are posted by parents, who are unaware of how easily they can be downloaded and stored by friends or strangers.

Tens of millions of photos of children doing everyday activities and posted on popular sites such as Facebook, Kik, and Instagram have been found by investigators looking into complaints about child abuse material online.

Senior investigator at the eSafety Commissioner, Toby Dagg, said that on one site with at least 45 million images “about half the material appeared to be sourced directly from social media” and clearly labelled in folders as images from Facebook, or other social sites like Kik, with one folder called “Kik girls”. Another was labelled “My daughter’s Instagram friends”.

Children’s eSafety commissioner Alastair MacGibbon says Australia needs to be more transparent about cyber security attacks. Andrew Meares

While photos copied from social media would not be considered exploitation material on their own, they were often accompanied by comments that explicitly sexualise the children. However, this was just a fraction of all the material investigated every year, Mr Dagg added.

And while the site was not hosted in Australia, it was “entirely possible” that images of Australian children were on the site, which he declined to name.

The Children’s eSafety Commissioner, Alastair MacGibbon, said his investigators have found sites containing child exploitation material where innocent images were presented in folders named thematically, such as “kids at beach”, “nice boys play in river”, “gymnasts”.

“Many users clearly identify that they have obtained the content through trawling social media accounts. The images are almost always accompanied by highly explicit and very disturbing user comments. Often, users exchange email addresses with invitations to connect outside the site to trade content,” he said.

Innocent images have ended up in thematically named folders such as “kids at beach”.
Fiona Morris

A 2013 investigation uncovered one site with about 100 images, including photos of kids on holiday, doing homework, and opening Christmas presents. “Families – very innocently – maintain blogs where they catalogue every aspect of their children’s lives, with no security against these obsessive efforts to obtain content. Within 10 days of being uploaded, the content had been viewed 1.7 million times and comments had been posted that explicitly sexualised the material,” Mr MacGibbon said.

Cyber-safety expert Susan McLean said parents were often less educated about online safety than their children.

“When you post anything online, does not matter where it is, you have lost control of it. Over-sharing parents are a concern because they have no idea about where these [images] go and many parents do not lock their accounts down in the same way kids do,” Ms McLean said.

“It does not matter how innocent the photo is, if your child has got what a predator is looking for, they will take that photo.”

She added Facebook has the best safety and security settings for parents to set up limited locked groups to share images with friends and family.

“If you are a voracious user of social media. If you live your life vicariously through your kids online and you use photo-sharing sites and hashtags, you have to got to understand that that photo is worth something to someone else and it may not be for a purpose you like.”

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Date de Publication : 2015-09-29 09:00:00

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