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Cell Phone Providers - Please Allow Parents to Get Copies of Cell Phone Photos!

A fast-growing trend that encourages minors to take sexy and nude photos of themselves via cell phone cameras and distribute to others needs immediate attention from our cell phone providers. Today's story from New Zealand involves a 12 year old girl, enticed into taking graphic photos in order to get stolen gaming points returned.

The usual tragic version of this warped use of technology includes a boy urging a girl in his school to send him a sexy photo of herself. He persists until she caves in and sends him the first photo from her cell phone. He then begins encouraging her to send even racier photos. Or he immediately sends the photo to the other boys in the grade. In the worst versions, the boy resells the photo overseas, to collectors of child pornography. Ugh.

What we parents need is a way to arrange for cell phone photo transmissions to be sent to us or maintained in a history that we alone can access. It would be equally nice (and valuable) for us to have texting and other messaging histories, in order to monitor hours of use ("are they texting during school hours"), to monitor buddy lists and in a case like this one, to see what photos we're spending so much money on sending to other phones! After all, if you check your bill, it's likely you will only see a number and a dollar amount. Verizon just announced they are adding parental controls as an option to their services. Make sure you are asking your provider to match and exceed theirs. The Wall Street Journal reviewed some of the providers' options and 3rd party solutions, as well.

And the admittedly weak advice we can give to parents is to be aware of the situation and make sure you monitor your child's cell phone. That means, occasionally picking it up, entering a password (if there is one) and looking at photos taken, stored or sent from that phone. Since photos can be quickly erased, check the online bills to see if there were any photos sent, especially late at night when the child might expect her "boudoir photo session" to go unnoticed.

The added element from the New Zealand story, and one that is barely explained in the coverage I've seen, is an explanation of how her gaming account was "hacked". Hacking implies that the entire site is vulnerable but I'd betya her password and accounts were stolen via phishing within the game chat or social engineering. Regardless of how it happened, it's not hard to imagine how upset this child was to discover that the value of many months of avid gaming were lost, and that she was now being blackmailed to get them back. I certainly wish she had felt she could tell a parent or other trusted adult what was going on. Let's hope that law enforcement catches these creeps, before they do this to another victim.  

Message Edited by marianmerritt on 06-25-2008 01:53 PM