Paedophiles are stealing millions of photos from sites like Facebook and Instagram, investigators warn
Nearly half of the material found on some paedophile websites has been stolen from parents innocently posting images of their families online, Australia's new Children's eSafety Commissioner has warned.
Alastair MacGibbon said that a team of investigators looking into complaints of child abuse material had discovered tens of millions of photos of children doing everyday activities such as swimming, sports or homework.
The Sydney Morning Herald reports that the study found that while the images themselves were not exploitative, comments attached sexualised them.
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“Parents who thoughtlessly cataloguing every aspect of their children's lives have no idea how easily these images can be downloaded by strangers,” said Mr MacGibbon.
He said that his investigators had found that within 10 days of being uploaded, some of the content from popular social media sharing sites such as Facebook, Instagram and Kik had been viewed 1.7 million times.
Images were often catalogued in 'themes' such as "kids at beach", "nice boys play in river" or "gymnasts", alongside comments that explicitly sexualised the material.
"Many users clearly identify that they have obtained the content through trawling social media accounts," he told the newspaper.
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"The images are almost always accompanied by highly explicit and very disturbing user comments. Often, users exchange email addresses with invitations to connect outside the site to trade content."
Senior investigator at the eSafety Commissioner, Toby Dagg, said that on one site with at least 45 million images "about half the material appeared to be sourced directly from social media" and clearly labelled in folders as images from Facebook, or other social sites like Kik, with one folder called "Kik girls".
Another was labelled "My daughter's Instagram friends".
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Mr MacGibbon said told the Australian newspaper that a 2013 investigation uncovered one site with about 100 images, including photos of kids on holiday, doing homework, and opening Christmas presents.
"Families – very innocently – maintain blogs where they catalogue every aspect of their children's lives, with no security against these obsessive efforts to obtain content.
"It does not matter how innocent the photo is, if your child has got what a predator is looking for, they will take that photo,” he warned.