A Dutch organization called Terre des Hommes has identified some 1,000 alleged child-sex predators by luring them in with a computer-animated prepubescent Philippine girl on Internet chat rooms. The online victimization of children, it would appear, is far worse than imagined.
The virtual girl, named Sweetie, was created by TDH Netherlands to notify the public — and police organizations — about how frequently children in developing countries are being victimized online.
For a period of 10 weeks, Sweetie existed only in Internet chat rooms, during which time the bot was approached by more than 20,000 online predators from 71 countries. That amounts to the distressing figure of 285 attempts per day.
The chats took place around the clock in order to cover several time zones. No hacking or back-channel methods were used during the operation — all the information was volunteered by the offenders; Sweetie never made first contact in the chat rooms, instead waiting for predators to initiate the conversation.
The idea is very similar to the one being developed by Spanish researchers — an advanced chatbot called Negobot that poses as a 14-year old girl in chatrooms and social networks.
By the time the Sweetie sting was over, the TDH researchers were able to identify about 1,000 adults in 65 countries by cross-referencing their e-mail or Skype addresses with other publicly available information. The perps who were identified included 254 Americans, 110 Brits, 54 Canadians, 46 Australians, and 44 Germans.
From the RT report:
[Albert Jaap van] Santbrik said the men were from all walks of life and came from a variety of professional situations. They were “fathers, musicians, an architect,” he told AFP.
“Our worst-case scenario is that the same will happen with this phenomenon as with child pornography, which is now a multi-billion dollar industry in the hands of criminal gangs.”
One man identified only by his screen name, “Older4Young,” said he was a 35-year-old father of two from Atlanta, Georgia in the US. He offered Sweetie $10 to undress on camera.
“Turn on your cam,” he wrote. “I’m horny.”
TDH has now handed over its findings to Interpol.