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The looser the filters, the more the need for the most sophisticated monitoring tools, like those employed at Facebook and those offered by independent companies such as the UK's Crisp Thinking, which works for Lego, Electronic Arts, and Sony Corp's online entertainment unit, among others.In addition to blocking forbidden words and strings of digits that could represent phone numbers, Crisp assigns warning scores to chats based on multiple categories of information, including the use of profanity, personally identifying information and signs of grooming.Things like too many 'unrequited' messages, or those that go unresponded to, also factor in, because they correlate with spamming or attempts to groom in quantity, as does analysis of the actual chats of convicted pedophiles.

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Still, as the Skout case showed, there are several recent trends that have heightened the concerns of child-safety experts: the rise of smartphones, which are harder for parents to monitor; location-oriented services, which are the darling of Net companies seeking more ad revenue from local businesses; and the rapid proliferation in phone and tablet apps, which don't always make clear what data they are using and distributing.

A solid system for defending against online predators requires both oversight by trained employees and intelligent software that not only searches for improper communication but also analyzes patterns of behavior, experts said.

Sulake said it had kept 225 moderators and is still investigating what went wrong.

By some measures, Internet-related sex crimes against children have always been rare and are now falling (as are reports of assaults on minors that do not involve the Net).

Technology is available for verifying the ages of Web and app users.

One of the providers is Aristotle International Inc, which offers a variety of methods, including having a parent vouch for a child and make a token payment with a credit card to establish the parent's identity.

Metaverse Chief Executive Amy Pritchard said that in five years her staff only intercepted something 'terrifying' once, about a month ago, when a man on a discussion board for a major media company was asking for the email address of a young site user.

Software recognised that the same person had been making similar requests of others and flagged the account for Metaverse moderators.

As a result, many threats are eliminated without human intervention and moderators at the company are notified later.

Sites that operate with such software still should have one professional on safety patrol for every 2,000 users online at the same time, said Sacramento-based Metaverse Mod Squad, a moderating service.

Officers took control of the teenager's computer and arrested the man the next day, said Special Agent Supervisor Jeffrey Duncan of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

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