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Commentary

Kat’s Blog: App. Goes to Disturbing Lengths to Catch Predators

Good Morning America has run two recent segments on a parental control phone monitoring app. called Bark. For a fee, the tech company advertises that it’s app. can monitor your children’s social media online activities for signs of potentially dangerous situations such as cyber-bullying, adult content, sexual predators, drug use, depression, suicidal ideation, threats of violence and other assorted issues.

Understandably, the online world can be a dangerous place, so some parents might choose to monitor their children’s computer activities by paying a tech company to act as “big brother”, and that’s fine.

But Bark, and you can read the Good Morning America segment by clicking here  to see what you think, has taken the act of “monitoring” to what I think is a disturbing new length, luring in what they refer to as “potential predators” the same way law enforcement does with online entrapment type stings. (Their website doesn’t divulge whether or not they are connected with law enforcement, only that they work closely with law enforcement.)

Bark has what they refer to as a Special Projects Team.  (No professional qualifications of those involved in this Special Projects Team are listed on their website.)   According to their information, this team is a “natural extension of the work the company does on a daily basis to keep kids safe by monitoring their online activities.” Here’s where it begins to seem disturbing to me.

One of the team members is a 37- yr. old mother who reports that she has worked for years, disguising herself online, using different personas and with the help of a “dynamite” graphic design team, portrays young teenage girls, in order to uncover potential predators online.

Her personas vary in age, socioeconomic status, race, hair color, etc. Her facial features and body image are manipulated by the graphics team and fictitious tweens, teens and their backstories are created. The team members field incoming calls and messages, communicate in each individual persona voice and then identify potential predators before turning the evidence they’ve gathered over to the NCMEC (National Center for Missing and Exploited Children) and law enforcement.

According to the Good Morning America article, this team member then goes home to her own family, taking off the “kid’s clothes” that she wore for images and video calls with perpetrators and changing into clothing more appropriate for a 37- year old.

Why does this seem kind of wrong and creepy in so many ways?  Perhaps it’s because this seems to go way above and beyond what one would expect from a company hired to “monitor” your child’s computer use.  The words that came to my mind when I read this article were “phishing”, “set-up” and “entrapment”. It reminded me of an old TV show, To Catch A Predator, where predator-entrapments were played out right before our eyes with law enforcement, ready and waiting to nab suspects.

I’m not certain what kind of authority, if any, companies like Bark are required to have in order to “act” like law enforcement, luring people into a web, gathering so-called evidence against “potential” perpetrators and then turning it over to “real” law enforcement.  There’s just something that doesn’t quite sit right with me about the “luring” aspect of this whole thing, team members dressing up in kid’s clothes, putting on make-up in order to pose as tweens and teens to attract “potential online predators.”

To me, the whole thing just seems, well, disturbing, and certainly out of the ordinary.

 

Join the discussion

  1. Tim in WI

    CATFISHING IS A POPULAR INTERNET ACTIVITY!
    Catch ng potential perps is sport for vigilant types.

    When it comes to applications (Apps.) we discuss iterations of the useful database and little else. In fact without database no app could exists. The danger from an errant presumption of benevolence can not be understated given the widespread integration into the day to day lives of people. “Ubiquitous internet firms” means just that! Profit most often overruns morality all things being equal in human. Sex offenders were the first sold out to the big data in benevolence but the rest came soon after.

    There is quantitative upside to identifying the difference between “being accurate” or/& ” being valid” when we opt for the term “science” in law making. In 1992-94 could there have been any science assuring SOR (the electronic file) would out produce ( the former paper file)? Clearly no. The intention was the ” post online without process ” (Constanteneau V Hartford PD) from the beginning long before the Whetterling act which created this SO specialized electronic infrastructure. Socialists efforts supported by big business. WI calls it’s S.O. registration form -1796
    A year of note politically speaking for this nation.

  2. ab

    Yeah it’s a far more common tactic than most are aware of. Law enforcement tends to get away with the more egregious operations on occasion, but this is very questionable.

    • Tim in WI

      ab,
      Yes law enforcement has indeed embraced the cyber scheme to advance their agenda and careers. Electronic Domestic Surveillance can take on many forms from the blatantly overt to the blatantly covert. Much of the advantages wrought via the electronic infrastructure toward public safety are cross jurisdictional. The distinction between separation of authorities is muddied by the inherent nature and power of the internet and database infrastructure. Recent congressional discussions of FISA warrant misuses and abuses proves something very onerous with concern for many inalienable rights of free men. More folks are becoming aware of the electronic dangers( see ring.com sage) from the infrastructure including gov misuses.

  3. NorthEastPENN

    My opinion – this app “Bark” is using fear of parents about the safety of their children to sell their product. This woman and the “theory” that she pretends to be a potential young victim of a predator is only adding to the fear to sell their app along with the fact that it is more than likely giving some parents the perception that because this woman is doing what she is doing that their kids will now be kept safe because this woman traps all potential predators before they can “strike” at kids.

    Again, it is the job of the parents to educate themselves about the dangers of the Internet and teach their kids basic safety measures to protect themselves online. Just like parents try to teach their kids about other threats in the world around them.

    I hate companies that capitalize on fear to make a buck. Just like the online sites that have parents sign up and charge them to alert them by email when a registrant moves in near by. All fear driving the sales of their products.

    For fun one day I called up one of those online sites that alert parents to nearby registrants moving in. I had a customer service rep on the phone and he was trying every trick in the book to scare me into signing up and paying their fee. He went on for about 15 minutes and I just played along. Just about when it was time for me to sign up with him I hit him back with facts. He had no clue to say back to me. Have to give him credit though, he did not hang up on me right away but I think he got my drift. It was a good way to pass a rainy Saturday afternoon.

    • Lovewillprevail

      Way to go. I am laughing my ass off at what you did. Wasting his time kept him from selling fear to someone else during the time you had him on the phone.

      • NorthEastPENN

        @Lovewillprevail – yes it was fun to do. When I finally let on at the end of the call that I was a registrant he didn’t know what to say.

        I loved wasting his time 🙂

  4. Harry

    Pushing fear and unforgiveness is the biggest sellers without it most professionals, insurance companies and LE people would be out of good paying jobs.

  5. Tired Old Man

    here in Florida, there is another Gov. database that a consumer can’t dispute, etc… if someone goes and is prescribed pain meds the dispenser is required to enter it into database i go to pain dr. every 30 days to get a refill prescription. had to get some for my dog that vet prescribed and that was put into database under me my name and sure enough, my pain doctor asked me about it and then require i take a piss test.

    • Tim in WI

      @Tired old man
      Opiates are federally scheduled and so they regulate. Regulated “things” are different than regulated humans. Pills normally spend their entire life span\ existence sequestered or contained. None can complain; pills don’t live. My cat certainly needed his meds after he and a racoon tangled in a dispute over our garbage can ( The jurisdiction).

      The gov use of the pills database does count as probative toward real underlying punitive intent based on affirmative restraint. Other safety uses abound for the nanny state, surveillance saints and big brother business all advanced dramatically by the civil determination foundations in the 03Doe cases concerning individual liberty AND gov use of the machine, and it’s powerful capability to collect, cross reference (Nth°) and automated programmed distillation for effect.
      King George woulda loved it! The settlements often ditched the kings taxes by any means necessary, we saw the same thing done upon the advent of the internet. Gov tax receipt dropped dramatically due to it.

      Is it possible the notion of ruling authority must require a separation of database and state to sustain liberty, similar to the ratified separation of church and state?

  6. Dustin

    It has occurred to me that all states have laws to prosecute those who induce others to commit crimes, even if they don’t commit one directly. My question is – why aren’t people who induce others to illegal sex acts, such as the woman in this story, prosecuted as such? If I were wrapped up in a sting like this, I’d be screaming about it.

  7. C

    Luring as a law enforcement tactic:

    While on probation in CA for an out of state conviction, essentially probation squared, I received roughly monthly texts from “young girls” trying to flirt with me. In every instance I ignored the texts, because since I got my first cell phone I have ignored texts from anyone that I do not know.

    Later on, well after my early release from the convicting state and CA begrudgingly releasing me from their supervision, all those texts stopped.

    What law enforcement does NOT do, is deeply investigate our backgrounds. Had they looked real close into me, they would have uncovered that some of my closest friends work for the NSA and a few for the CIA, men who stayed clean after our time in the service. (forehead slapping myself here)

    One, We will call him good mutual friend of Mikey R. would not tell me WHO had sent the texts, but he could tell me that all the texts originated from the same geographical location that may or may not be one of the probation offices in my county here in CA.

    Yes, even law enforcement WILL try to lure former citizens like us into reoffending.

    • someone who cares

      C ~ Wouldn’t that be considered “impersonating: “California Penal Code Section 529 PC, false impersonation (also called “false personation”) is a criminal offense involving the use of someone else’s name in order to cause harm to that other person or to improperly gain a benefit”. In this can, gaining benefit would be the case.

    • Bill

      @C

      Good for you that you knew better than to fall for these traps! These LEA’s should be charged for attempting to entrap you!

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