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Kids using smart-phone apps to send naked photos

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DA warn parents that applications are often unknown to them

By Emile Hallez

Jeffco authorities have investigated six incidents in the past two weeks of preteens sending naked photos via smart-phone applications in lieu of traditional text-messaging, a means of cloaking the practice from suspicious parents, the district attorney’s office reports.

Using programs such as textPlus and Textfree, services allowing free text-messaging to U.S. and Canadian phone numbers using Wi-Fi connections, children have recently been sending risqué communications that put themselves at risk for serious social and legal consequences, Jefferson County Internet investigator Mike Harris said.

“The parents who are trying to be diligent … are completely unaware that these apps are on their kids’ phones,” Harris said of the applications, which store messages separately from those displayed in phones’ text-messaging logs. “They’re finding a way around it so they don’t get caught.”

Of related concern is the ubiquitous nature of smart phones and other electronic devices among kids, Harris said, noting that at a presentation he delivered last week to fourth- and fifth-graders, he noticed most of the students had cell phones. Many applications also allow users to send text or picture messages from iPods or other devices having Wi-Fi connectivity.

“Probably 80 percent of those kids have phones. That’s a concerning trend,” he said. “The more complex technology gets, the harder it gets for parents to parent … and the easier it gets for kids to circumvent their parents.”

The repercussions of distributing indecent photos of minors — even if a child is sending photos of himself or herself — can be severe, Harris said.

“All the cases we’ve had are 11 and 12 year olds. … If we were to charge these kids for sending out their naked pictures, they would be charged with felonies. They would be registered sex offenders,” he said, explaining that the DA’s office has instead been requiring the children to attend classes. “It causes huge problems for the kid who may have screwed up when they were 11. … They do not have the mind-set of how serious this is.”

Further, the social consequences of having compromising photos disseminated are usually worse, he said.

“If their picture goes viral, there are legal consequences and there are social consequences,” Harris said, noting that kids typically face taunting from peers in such instances. “Kids are ruthless. … (And) kids are hurting themselves or taking their own lives.”

The simplest way to prevent children from putting themselves at risk is to avoid giving them sophisticated phones, Harris said, which obviously is not popular among the younger set.

“If you don’t get your kid one, they might not be in the predicament,” he said. “They’re doing it because they have smart phones.”

 

Contact Emile Hallez at emile@evergreenco.com or 303-933-2233, ext. 22. For updates, check www.ColumbineCourier.com.