WWW.Darkside 1 – Online Grooming

A topical and sensitive subject such as online child abuse, terrorist recruitment etc., will understandably garner a lot of interest and attention, not just from IT people, but also from other members of society at large. The recent BCS event with a similar title was no exception and, perhaps unsurprisingly, it also became a target of unwanted attention by some self-styled extremists. Read on for more.

First of all, the event featured only two out of five original speakers. Apparently, the other three were unable to attend for various reasons, including threats to personal safety by a certain extremist group. However, it still turned out to be an interesting and informative session, full of insightful takes on the legal and IT aspects of online grooming.

Will Richmond-Coggan, Partner at Pittmans LLP, described how UK laws created in 2008 are not equipped to handle more recent emergent technology and behaviours, e.g. ubiquitous social media and/or ephemeral messaging services such as Snapchat. The key challenge is the startling velocity with which certain social technology innovation can gain critical mass and become pervasive. Nowadays, even a joke on Twitter about 'blowing up something' can be misconstrued, setting off a chain of events that could result in a minimal charge of wasting police time, at best. Freedom of expression is tricky, because it is not without limitations.

Richmond-Coggan also discussed how well meaning individuals wanting to give moral or financial support to oppressed people overseas can easily become victims of online recruiters and / or radicalisation by extremist organisations. He also presented case studies illustrating the repercussions of online grooming on innocent but vulnerable people, and their families, even in situations where the actual sex crimes were thwarted by vigilant family members.

Ryan Rubin, MD of Protiviti, focused his talk on the role of technology and strategic attacks and he sees grooming as part of a wider problem, including: ISIS, trolls, cyber bullying and child abuse. There is much need to increase public awareness of these issues as well as the methods for detecting and combating them, e.g. digital evidence from EXIF data on digital cameras, digital breadcrumbs from social media tools and privacy controls.

People need to employ good digital hygiene and risk management, such as use of strong passwords, regular audits of privacy controls on social media, not publishing your date of birth or any unnecessary information about your kids, and certainly monitoring your kid’s online activities / content / channels. Remember, photos may contain location information and don't post your travel plans (or else you might as well take out a "please rob me" ad). Finally, always post with caution, e.g. by applying the Grandma test (i.e. will your Grandma be offended by the content you're just about to post online?).

Overall, I thought this was another excellent event by our North London BCS branch, despite unforeseen glitches caused by the drop out of three speakers. I only hope the next Darkside event will be just as topical and provocative because, as IT professionals, we are supposed to be able to take a clear stance, if not actually lead the way, to help resolve technology related issues that affect broader society as a whole. 

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About the author
Jude Umeh is a member of the UK's Sector Consulting Group in Capgemini's global Telecom Media and Entertainment (TME) community. His areas of expertise include: music, media and digital rights management; and he contributes to thought leadership development and delivery of solutions and services to the stakeholders in these fields. Jude is the author of The World Beyond Digital Rights Management.

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