Meet the “cappers” or, rather, don’t

“Cappers” is a term that has been around for a while.  Click here  for a great explanation from Signy Arnason, Associate Director of the Canadian Centre for Child Protection.

“Capping” is about tricking children into doing something inappropriate, for example while livestreaming,  then without the child’s knowledge images or recordings of the inappropriate behaviour are “captured” and subsequently used to extort or sextort the victim. Paedophiles and other sexual predators are ardent cappers but so are people who have absolutely no sexual interest in children. They are just looking for  easy ways to get money or goods.

Typically, but not always, paedophilic cappers go on the prowl looking for children within multiplayer video games and chat apps. The child will be asked by someone in there to go on livestream, perhaps stepping through a progression of requests to build  trust, comfort, confidence and familiarity.

Sometimes it is as simple as targeting teen boys by pretending to be a teenage girl then asking the boy to  perform a sexual act on camera.  From reports it seems getting girls to do something sexual on camera is often likely to require a greater effort to groom them whereas boys can be more impulsive.

Conversations can begin on one platform, usually a public one, and be moved swiftly to somewhere private. Fake inducements, cash or gifts, might be offered to get the young person to engage.

Capping in the age of lockdown

Now that so many schools have closed down as part of a series of measures to try to get rid of the Covid-19 virus, millions of children will be at home and almost certainly a great many of them, to an even  greater degree than usual and for longer periods of time,  will be glued to screens, playing games and staying in touch with their friends, maybe making new friends through a wide variety of apps.

The Canadian Centre has been monitoring some of the conversations taking place between cappers and with the Centre’s permission I reproduce verbatim an account they picked up just last week

With potentially millions of boys around the world being or soon to be forced to stay home from school, potentially unsupervised if parents are working (teens in particular) now is the time for cappers to do their part to assist the quarantine efforts. There is a dire need for enriching, structured activities for all these boys to engage in.”

I have heard an unconfirmed report that some UK ISPs are detecting a 25% increase in “adult camming”. That’s a slightly ambiguous term but it doesn’t sound great and we must hope it does not include a large number of actions by cappers who have targeted kids.

Grooming expected to rise

Last week the UK’s Internet Watch Foundation put out a clarion call warning about the increased risk of grooming attempts during this period of restricted movement. And the police, in the form the NCA-CEOP Command and the excellent Parent Zone, also started reminding people and pointing  them towards their own advice and guidance on grooming. Further announcements by the police are expected shortly.

The message, I’m afraid, is clear. Some very bad people will try to exploit the current situation. They are being provided with almost the ideal conditions. Harassed parents, bored kids and almost unlimited time stretching into the far distance.

Parental engagement will be key but maybe now is also a great time to start checking out some of the tools and apps that can lend parents a hand in keeping their  children safe when they aren’t and can’t be looking.

It might also be a good time for tech players to step forward and show they get it and are busting a gut to do something extra in these uniquely awful, stressful conditions.

I am not going to mention age verification

Obviously no one could have foreseen the present situation when, last October, the Government announced its decision to delay the introduction of the age verification regulations to control children’s access to pornography sites.

For that reason I am not even going to mention it here. However, other less generous spirits might be inclined to point out that had everything been in place, as it could have been and should have been by now, that would have been one less thing for parents to  think or worry about during lockdown.

Is it yet too late to hope something can be done to speed things up?  The porn companies are ready. The age verification companies are ready. It just needs someone to press the button marked “go”.

Online child protection should be part of the Government’s national response

I have been slightly exasperated by some of the synthetic outrage being expressed here and there because nobody  in Whitehall or Westminster anticipated x or y. None of us have ever lived through days like these.  Mindful of the famous expression by a leading military strategist about “no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy” to some degree we are all having to make it up as we go along.

So I am not going to criticise the Government for not anticipating what we now know to be true.  However,  it has become abundantly clear that there needs to be a national alert about the fact that people like “cappers” are out there seeking to exploit the conditions created by the lockdown. This should be linked to a reminder that wonderful though it is in so many ways, the internet is not always an unalloyed blessing.

 

About John Carr

John Carr is one of the world's leading authorities on children's and young people's use of digital technologies. He is Senior Technical Adviser to Bangkok-based global NGO ECPAT International, Technical Adviser to the European NGO Alliance for Child Safety Online, which is administered by Save the Children Italy and an Advisory Council Member of Beyond Borders (Canada). Amongst other things John is or has been an Adviser to the United Nations, ITU, the European Union, the Council of Europe and European Union Agency for Network and Information Security and is a former Board Member of the UK Council for Child Internet Safety. He is Secretary of the UK's Children's Charities' Coalition on Internet Safety. John has advised many of the world's largest internet companies on online child safety. In June, 2012, John was appointed a Visiting Senior Fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science. More: http://johncarrcv.blogspot.com
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