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January 3, 2024

Police investigate virtual sex assault on girl’s avatar 

  • The chair of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners has said that police are investigating a virtual sexual assault of a girl’s avatar, causing “psychological trauma”.
  • Ian Critchley of the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) reported that the metaverse had created a “gateway for predators to commit horrific crimes against children, crimes we know have lifelong impacts both emotionally and mentally”.
  • According to an unnamed senior officer, the victim, who was under 16 at the time, suffered psychological trauma “similar to that of someone who has been physically raped”.
  • However, in criminal law, rape and sexual assault require there to have been physical contact.
  • Meta has said in a statement: “The kind of behaviour described has no place on our platform, which is why for all users we have an automatic protection called personal boundary, which keeps people you don’t know a few feet away from you.”
  • They continued: “Though we weren’t given any details about what happened ahead of this story publishing, we will look into it as details become available to us.”
  • For more, please visit the BBC News website.

Google settles $5bn lawsuit for ‘private mode’ tracking 

  • Google has agreed to settle a US lawsuit claiming it invaded the privacy mode of users by tracking them in private mode.
  • The class action claimed that Google had tracked users’ activity even when they set the Google Chrome browser to “Incognito” mode and other browsers to “private mode”.
  • It said this had turned Google into an “unaccountable trove of information” on user preferences and “potentially embarrassing things”.
  • Judge Rogers had rejected Google’s bid to have the case dismissed in early 2023, saying she could not agree that users consented to allowing Google to collect information on their browsing activity.
  • Google reported that the collection of search history, even in private viewing mode, helped site owners “better evaluate the performance of their content, products, marketing and more”.
  • Lawyers are expected to present a formal settlement for the court’s approval by February 2024.
  • For more, please visit the BBC News website.

Human trafficking: One conviction under NI ‘paying for sex’ law 

  • A law that makes paying for sexual services a crime in Northern Ireland has led to just one conviction since 2015, new figures show.
  • Figures released under a Freedom of Information (FoI) request showed that there were 75 arrests between 2018 and 2023.
  • Of those, 21 resulted in charges. There were also four discretionary disposals, 24 cautions and one conviction.
  • However, in July 2023, Women’s Aid reported an increase in the number of trafficking victims they were supporting – from 47 in 2021, to 243.
  • Lord Morrow reported: “We need to be finding out why it is not happening because the other end of the activity, it’s happening. But enforcement doesn’t seem to be happening to the same degree.”
  • The PSNI said it remained “committed to safeguarding innocent victims who are being exploited”.
  • For more, please visit the BBC News website.

NI sextortion victim’s ordeal: ‘Account had nude photo that was not mine ready to send to all my followers’ 

  • The police are warning the public to be vigilant after receiving around 70 reports of sextortion a month in 2023.
  • Sextortion is a form of blackmail where a criminal threatens to reveal intimate images of the victim online unless they give in to their demands — typically for money or further intimate images.
  • A 24-year-old local man fell victim to sextortion, reporting that an account posing as a girl on the location-based dating app Feeld convinced him to communicate with them via Telegram, an encrypted messaging app which doesn’t require users to reveal their phone numbers to use it.
  • He stated that the account “…had already compiled a bunch of fake messages and accusations along with a nude photo — which was not mine — pasted next to a picture of myself and my Instagram username handle, ready to be sent to all of my followers if I didn’t send them £1,000.”
  • DCI McBurney added: “Innocent people are left feeling humiliated and distraught — but the important message is that victims shouldn’t let embarrassment stop them from reporting what’s happened.”
  • He continued: “Don’t panic, don’t respond to demands, and don’t enter into further communication. If you can, confide in a trusted friend or family member, and please contact officers immediately on 101.”
  • For more, please visit the Belfast Telegraph website.