WARN­ING: Don’t send that sex text

New phone app urges chil­dren to think again be­fore post­ing a naked photo

The Scottish Mail on Sunday - - News - By Michael Pow­ell

IT’S a dilemma for ev­ery mod­ern par­ent – how to keep chil­dren safe on so­cial me­dia with­out mon­i­tor­ing their ev­ery post.

Now the de­vel­op­ers of a new smart­phone app claim to have come up with the an­swer – a friendly ‘bot’ that warns young­sters to think again be­fore they send naked pho­tos, ex­plicit mes­sages or even per­sonal de­tails on­line.

Oy­oty uses ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence which de­tects when a pic­ture has too much flesh on show, and asks the child to think again.

The app can even send alerts to par­ents, but the aim is to get the young­sters to curb their own be­hav­iour.

Sex­ting cases in­volv­ing chil­dren shar­ing ex­plicit im­ages have more than dou­bled in two years, with po­lice record­ing 6,238 of­fences last year.

So­cial me­dia gi­ants such as Face­book and Snapchat have been crit­i­cised by child-safety cam­paign­ers for fail­ing to tackle the prob­lem.

Com­puter ex­perts in Switzer­land have spent years pro­gram­ming the Oy­oty app so it can im­me­di­ately dis­tin­guish harm­ful ma­te­rial.

It also guards against abu­sive and bul­ly­ing lan­guage and re­veal­ing sen­si­tive in­for­ma­tion such as phone num­bers.

The app is de­signed to run in the back­ground of a de­vice, sweep­ing for dan­ger­ous posts on Face­book, In­sta­gram and Twit­ter.

If it spots some­thing sus­pi­cious, a ‘chat bot’ en­gages with the young­ster. In one ex­am­ple, the app sends a mes­sage to a child, ask­ing: ‘There is a lot of skin show­ing in this pic­ture. I won­der if you might need to stop and think about shar­ing this?’

It then asks: ‘Would your par­ents/ carer think it was a good idea, or will you be em­bar­rassed if they hap­pened to see it?’

It then guides the young­ster through how to delete the im­age. App de­vel­oper Deepak Te­wari said: ‘This is not about telling chil­dren what to do but about ed­u­cat­ing them and help­ing them to make their own in­formed choices.

‘Very young chil­dren are go­ing on­line in in­creas­ing num­bers. The in­dus­try is not do­ing enough to recog­nise it as a prob­lem. Stud­ies sug­gest chil­dren aged eight, nine and ten are spend­ing ten hours a day on their plat­forms un­su­per­vised.’

He said none of the harm­ful im­ages or posts is ever re­tained by the app – and he hopes that the tech­nol­ogy will even­tu­ally come au­to­mat­i­cally in­stalled on phones used by chil­dren.

The in­no­va­tion has been hailed by Anne Long­field, the Gov­ern­ment’s chil­dren’s com­mis­sioner, who is among those cam­paign­ing to make the in­ter­net safer.

She said: ‘The in­ter­net is dif­fi­cult to po­lice and it will re­quire creative think­ing to over­come that.

‘Apps like this make a start. It gives chil­dren the chance to re­con­sider a post, pos­si­bly sent in haste, but not in a preachy way.

‘This is giv­ing some power back to chil­dren and par­ents.’

ALERT: How Oy­oty re­acts when a pho­to­graph shows too much flesh

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