Emily is a 10-year-old child living in a suburb in the south of the country. She lives with her Mum who has separated from her husband due to a very violent relationship. Dad wants to see Emily but as she and her Mum are under a Child Protection Order this is very difficult; he doesn’t know where they have moved to and has no idea of mobile phone numbers or email addresses.

So, he turns to social networking. First of all he searches Facebook, the most popular social networking service. Although Emily is under 13 years old and shouldn’t have an account, she has got one. Mum knows Emily has a Facebook account; she allows Emily to keep in touch with her friends back home as they have all got Facebook accounts as well.

Emily has got lots of information on her profile; her picture and various other pictures of places she has visited with her Mum and new friends, her age, mobile phone number, where she goes to school.

She also likes to keep her friends updated with the great new things she is doing, like the new Brownies hut that has opened up on a Wednesday evening. She tells her friends when she goes away on holiday and lots of other stuff.

Unfortunately Emily has never been told that she needs to lock down her security settings in Facebook, or why. School have never discussed the risks with Emily and neither has her Mum, who never checks Emily’s Facebook account.

What could go wrong here?

Firstly we have Dad. It took less than 5 minutes for him to find Emily online and now knows exactly where she lives, what school she goes to, and her mobile number. Due to the violent history we now have a serious child protection issue.

Secondly, we have Emily’s new friend Liam. He is an 11-year-old boy who only lives a couple of miles up the road. Emily and Liam have been talking a lot and have become great friends, they have arranged to meet at the weekend.

Liam is actually Roy, a convicted Internet predator who lives 150 miles away. He knows everything he needs to know about Emily to befriend her; all her personal information such as where she goes to school. He doesn’t need to know the area, that’s what Google Maps is for. He knows where Emily likes to play. How does he know this? Emily takes photographs with her friends and posts them to Facebook. Her camera on her phone records the GPS position. It’s easy to get that information from the photograph.

The above is purely an example. It is very simple but highlights some of the dangers of very open, public facing social networking. The fundamental point is that today’s technology has increased risk to extraordinary proportions:

– Where children feel “safe” posting to the world about their personal life from their bedroom or from their smartphone.

– Where the risk from the predator or the bully is no longer from playing out in the street or walking to and from school.

It is important that children are made aware of the dangers involved in the technology they use practically every day of their lives.  This is an extract from our online e-Safety training course.