Microsoft Introduces ‘One-Click’ Sexual Predator Reporting

Microsoft is adding a feature to Messenger which will allow users to, with one click of a button, report someone as a sexual predator.

Users of Microsoft’s Messenger email service will be able to report suspected sexual predators directly to the police at the click of a mouse.

In an attempt to protect the 11 million users of the service from potential abusers, the software giant has struck up a partnership with the UK government-backed Child Exploitation & Online Protection Centre.

Microsoft will add a “report abuse” icon to Messenger that will link any users worried about their anonymous internet buddies directly to online police services.

It’s not entirely clear from the article, but it appears that this is only going to affect users in the United Kingdom. For now, anyway. I doubt it will be long before concerned parents groups begin clamoring for this in the U.S., as well.

As I see it, this is gonig to have some rather deleterious effects, not the least of which will be less people using MSN Messenger. After all, who wants to take the risk that a random mouse click is going to result in possibly being the target of a police investigation. After all, just the mere accusation of a sex-related crime can turn someone’s life upside-down, threatening their custody of their children, their jobs, and possibly their life.

The other major downside is that this will probably result in significantly higher numbers of investigations into internet sex predation. Higher numbers of investigations mean, first of all, higher numbers of people cleared of sex crimes–which means that resources that could have gone into catching actual predators have become a waste of time. So fewer sexual predators will be caught. Further, the increase numbers of reports, along with a high number of negatives, could lead overworked police officers into not uncovering real predators, who will no doubt become even sneakier due to the potential for increased monitoring of their activities. Again, the net result is that police will catch fewer predators.

Most of the time, the consequences described by the “Law of Unintended Consequences” are also unforseen consequences. In this case, though, the lousy consequences are pretty obvious. This is a terrible idea. What’s worse is that even though this system is unlikely to lower the number of sexual predators, once implemented, this is never going to go away. After all, neither Microsoft nor police departments are going to want to open themselves up to being accused of allowing perverts to prey on innocent children.

It’s sad, really, how perception can so easily overtake reality in the realm of politics. Especially when children are involved.

(cross-posted at Heretical Ideas)

FILED UNDER: Europe, Law and the Courts, Science & Technology, World Politics, ,
Alex Knapp
About Alex Knapp
Alex Knapp is Associate Editor at Forbes for science and games. He was a longtime blogger elsewhere before joining the OTB team in June 2005 and contributed some 700 posts through January 2013. Follow him on Twitter @TheAlexKnapp.

Comments

  1. mikem says:

    I agree. This is just outrageously scary for the innocent and useless in protecting children. How many people would not go to the slightly greater effort of emailing a police or child protection agency in the case of a real predator? On the other hand, how many a**wipes will abuse a seemingly anonymous system to screw up someone’s life?
    The scariest thing about this is that I found myself “signed up” for IM against my wishes by people I emailed once or twice about various subjects. I haven’t had any negative consequences so far, and I have never used IM, but jeez, the guy who signed me up and I never IM back to can now click me onto a predator list if he thinks I’m an a**hole for not responding??
    I’ll be uninstalling MSN 9 tomorrow and going back to using Outlook Express. I’ll miss the excellent junk filter, but no way I signed up for this possibility.

  2. Rodney Dill says:

    “I never knew my neighbor was a sexual predator until I added him to the list.”

  3. Anderson says:

    I’ve always preferred to be a sexual herbivore, myself.

  4. From my reading, it doesn’t appear that sending this off to the police is anonymous. So hopefully some of the potential abuse of the system could be mitigated by having the police prosecute false accusers. If it was anonymous, can you imagine the number of false leads that would come out of heated political discussions.

    I think the reasoning here is less that it is likely to actually catch a sexual predator as it is to deter them from the network. It would make sense that a predator would rather use another system if it would lower their chances of getting caught. As such, parents would feel safer about letting their kids have wider access as it would be “safer”. Of course, the predator is already being drawn to something that has a pretty high penalty, so if more kids are drawn to it, it would be likely that more predators would also be lured there.

  5. Steve Verdon says:

    From my reading, it doesn’t appear that sending this off to the police is anonymous. So hopefully some of the potential abuse of the system could be mitigated by having the police prosecute false accusers.

    Tell ya’ what YAJ, why don’t you find out the number of people who have prosecuted for filing such false police reports and we’ll start taking your point seriously. Until then it ain’t going to fly.

    I think the reasoning here is less that it is likely to actually catch a sexual predator as it is to deter them from the network.

    So they’ll switch to something else. There is one thing that we should all be aware of is that as the law changes, the criminals change with it–evolution if you will. How does this thing work? Report the suspected sexual predator’s ISP #? How hard is it to run a script that will allow one to run a fake ISP #? So another consequence is that it will become even harder to catch the sexual predators as well.

    Think about that, first we have the problem that Alex notes, a low signal to noise raito. Second we have an increase in “tradecraft” on the part of the actual sexual predators and so you have made catching the real guys less likely. Way to go!

    It would make sense that a predator would rather use another system if it would lower their chances of getting caught. As such, parents would feel safer about letting their kids have wider access as it would be “safer”. Of course, the predator is already being drawn to something that has a pretty high penalty, so if more kids are drawn to it, it would be likely that more predators would also be lured there.

    And if it is actually harder to catch them, it will mean more victimized kids as well.