Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Google Invests $7 Mill to Stop Child Porn Access

Jacquelline Fuller, the director of Google Giving, recently announced that the company's investing $5 million to support efforts by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) and international organizations to rid the web of child exploitation. Google's also ponying up $2 million to encourage more effective tool development to combat Internet child sexual abuse.

To underscore the urgency of its effort, Google reports that the NCMEC’s CyberTipline reviewed 17.3 million suspected child sexual abuse images in 2011 – quadruple the amount seen in 2007 by its Exploited Children's Division.

Fuller says the search engine has used hashing technology to tag offending child sexual images with unique computer-recognized ID's since 2008.  What's new, the announcement declared, is that Google's beginning to "incorporate encrypted 'fingerprints' of child sexual abuse images into a cross-industry database [that other tech] companies, law enforcement and charities [will share] to better collaborate on detecting and removing these images, and to take action against the criminals."
However, some critics say these measures do not go far enough, since they narrowly focus on the searchable web. It's said that this web-based focus may neglect the shadow Internet and peer-to-peer (P2P) networks, which allow child predators to directly share pornographic images with one another without going through a central server or search engine. As an alternative, NetClean CEO Christian Berg claims to provide technology that can scan servers, laptops and desktops for known child abuse images, rather than URL-based tools that Google is using: "We’re not talking about URLs, but actual files, which means we can find things on USB sticks too," says Berg. He adds that the next step is "to do an investigation and notify the police."

Google's multi-million dollar cooperative investment, when added to existing and emerging technology, appears to be a strong step in the right direction to put criminal child sexual abuse images in the hands of law enforcement and out of the public domain. says "Law enforcement agencies are already using PhotoDNA to track and identify offending images. ... It’s possible law enforcement agencies could now use both the 'fingerprints' and 'DNA' of images and videos as a means of tackling tens of millions of images."

What can you do? Start a conversation with your children (or keep one going) so they feel comfortable discussing online problems they encounter, and cyber risks, including:
  • consequences of revealing personal information (name, age, address, telephone, pictures)
  • "private chats" with a stranger
  • meeting alone with anyone they met online 
  • predators seeking child victims and lying about their age, sex, and identity
  • responding to suggestive, obscene, belligerent, or harassing messages – instead, report these messages to CyberTipline or the police
Tweens and teens also need to know that sexting (sending a nude or semi-nude image in a text to someone) is a form of child pornography, even if the minor created the image. Besides ruining a child's reputation among their peers when these images are shared, they can end up in the hands of child predators or sextortionists.

If your teenager needs to talk to someone but may feel more comfortable talking to another teen, they can call Teen Line for confidential help and support at 800-852-8336 every evening 6 to 10 p.m. Or they can text "TEEN" to 839863.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Enslaved in the USA: Testimony of a Child's Survival

At a recent U.S. Senate Finance Committee hearing, Chairman Senator Baucus declared child trafficking a form of slavery that "exists right here in America" and is "quickly becoming one of the fastest growing criminal industries in the world."

"At least 100,000 children are exploited every year in the United States ... and most victims are between just 12 and 14 years old," said the senator. The senator also stated that because many Child Protective Service (CPS) workers are unfamiliar with human trafficking laws and "don't know how to handle cases involving trafficked children ... sex trafficking victims are often arrested and placed in juvenile detention facilities," and treated like criminals.

The senator's words echoed the experience of sex trafficking survivor and FAIR Girls Maryland Program Coordinator Asia Graves. Her story is a tragically common illustration of how the cycle of abuse continues until someone recognizes the warning signs and takes steps to stop it.

Asia's mother was a crack-cocaine addict and abuse victim herself, and her father was an alcoholic. Asia testified before the Senate committee that:

80 to 90% of victims of trafficking [victims] have been sexually abused. That is my story, too. I was raped [by] my mother’s drug dealers from the ages of 6 to 10 years old, which made me vulnerable to trafficking. I went to school and told my teachers as well as a school social worker who just believed that I was making it up. I stopped asking for help. My life as an American victim of modern day slavery could have been prevented. [T]he teachers and social workers who met me did not see the warning signs. By the time my pimp sold me, I was isolated and scared, which is exactly what most girls feel as they fall victim.

Enslaved at 16, a series of pimps sold her for sex all over America. She finally escaped three years later, and subsequently rebuilt her life with the help of a strong team of women leaders. "I hope someday to be a lawyer," she testified, "and take my past and use my work at FAIR Girls to truly ensure fewer girls fall victim to sex trafficking."

Asia recommends funding to open specialized homes for human trafficking victims, education for social workers and teachers to recognize and report trafficking red flags, and education for high risk youth inside the child welfare system to learn how to stay safe.

Congress has introduced legislation (SB 1118) to address child trafficking by, among other things, requiring state child welfare agencies to immediately report missing or abducted children to law enforcement.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Robot & Grandma

A couple of years ago, a "Skype-on-wheels" robot named Celia allowed adult children to remotely check on their aging parents. Now there are robots that could do the dishes, give them a bath, and hold a conversation.

Recently, a New York Times article gazed into the future of robotic caregiving to pose a "fundamental" question: "Should we entrust the care of people in their 70s and older to artificial assistants rather than doing it ourselves?"

The answer, of course, depends on who you ask. The makers of Paro (a furry baby-harp-seal-shaped therapy robot made to respond to its name, coo when petted, or cry when squeezed), would point to the technology's successes in treating Alzheimer's patients.

Similarly, Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) has designed a robot that can blink, giggle, and develop a personality when people interact with it, to assist in the therapy of people with autism. CMU roboticist Jim Osborn claims that "Those we tested it with love it and hugged it [and began] to think of it as something that is more than a machine with a computer."

But author and MIT professor Sherry Turkle is less sanguine. On seeing a 76-year-old patient share stories with the cuddly Paro, Turkle said, "I felt like this isn’t amazing; this is sad. We have been reduced to spectators of a conversation that has no meaning.... Giving old people robots to talk to is a dystopian view that is being classified as utopian."

Still others would say that personal assistant robots fill an important need at a time when the aging population is exponentially outpacing the caregiver pool.

But even robots that perform simple tasks (and don't do therapy) may come with psychological costs.

David E. Williams, in the Healthcare Collective blog calls it "spooky" that robots can give baths and do other personal tasks. Even if all the robot does is pick up, wash, and put away the dishes, Williams says, "you encounter issues of learned helplessness. If the robot can do it, why make the effort, even if effort is what provides purpose in life and staves off physical and cognitive decline?"