Meet Sweetie. She’s a 10-year-old girl living in the Philippines.
Only, she’s not.
Sweetie isn’t in the Philippines. She’s not 10 years old. She’s not a girl either.
In fact, “Sweetie” doesn’t exist. She’s a computer-generated avatar, created by a charity called Terre des Hommes. She’s controlled by a man working from a warehouse on the outskirts of Amsterdam.
On Monday, Terre des Hommes announced it had been using “Sweetie” to “identify over 1,000 adults who were willing to pay children in developing countries to perform sexual acts in front of the web-cam.” In a press release the charity said more than 20,000 people approached the girl online, asking her to perform sex acts.
The charity used the avatar to try and gather as much information about these people as they could, which they then passed on to police in the relevant country (they are not making the names public). Project director Hans Guyt told a news conference that webcam abuse “requires a new way of policing,” according to the BBC.
It’s scary that these pedophiles were so easy to flush out, but the use of a computer-generated child by a non-governmental agency to identify potential pedophiles has others spooked too.
“In any other domain of social experience incitement to an act that is considered to be a crime would be itself considered a criminal offence,” Frank Furedi, professor of sociology at the University of Kent, writes in the Independent today. “But apparently not if it flushes out the would-be-pedophile.”
Law enforcement agencies have also expressed concern. “We believe that criminal investigations using intrusive surveillance measures should be the exclusive responsibility of law enforcement agencies,” Europol spokesman Soren Pedersen told Reuters.
You can watch video of “Sweetie” below:
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