New Brunswick RCMP laid 19 charges against the man, including child luring, sexual assault and sexual exploitation.
Snapchat, which is used to send photos back and forth, has a feature called SnapMap where others can see your location if you have it turned on.
While in the vicinity of other people, you can add people nearby.
Police allege that is what the man did under two different usernames. In some cases, police said girls who were lured in the Fredericton and Oromocto areas met up with the 20-year-old and were sexually assaulted.
Cybersecurity expert David Shipley, who also founded and owns Beauceron Security, said tech companies do not think through all the ways a feature may make their users – mainly people under the age of 18 – vulnerable to exploitation.
Snapchat used to target girls in alleged N.B. child luring, sexual assault case, RCMP say
“I know that parents are busy, I know they are tired, I know they are overwhelmed by all this technology being thrown at them and their children, particularly over the last two years,” he said in an interview Thursday. “But you have to protect your kids because these companies are not. The government is not holding them to account.”
He said it also requires having difficult conversations with children about what can happen with the information shared on social media. Shipley said he understands wanting children and teens to have freedom and social connection, but being safe doesn’t mean taking that away.
“Turn off certain features. As they get older and earn trust, turn on certain features,” he said. “You have to play a more active role.”
Shipley also said there has not been a major privacy update in years, so the openness of certain apps has gone unchecked.
“That’s where we have to get better at these things,” he said. “These companies optimize their app and experiences to get people hooked and so our kids are growing up hooked on social media, to some extent, and some experts to levels of addiction.”
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He said in the United States there are conversations about how the algorithms are oriented and how mental health is impacted by the addictiveness of social media – something not happening in Canada.
“They are behind the wheel of a Ferrari on the internet,” he said.
Shipley said parents can turn off location services – even down to specific apps – and purchase and use protection software.
The New Brunswick RCMP said these cases are complex and are given as much priority as possible.
Cpl. Hans Ouellette said the suspect targeted teenage girls while near public schools. Police are looking for other possible victims connected to this case, he said.
“As we’re getting used to more and more functionality with our phones, with our different apps and with technology, we really have to be more conscious of what we’re doing online and what our children are doing online,” he said.
One of the key things in this case, Ouellette explained, is ensuring the children and youths who may be involved in this or any form of exploitation feel comfortable coming forward.
In the press release, the police specifically said “we want to talk to you to help our investigation. You are not in trouble. We want to support you.”
Ouellette said these cases can be very difficult for victims.
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“The truth is we are there to help, we are there to support and we’re also there to bring these people that do these types of crimes to justice,” he said.
While Ouellette couldn’t speak to how long the case took, what resources the RCMP have put toward the case, or whether Snapchat is co-operating with police, saying that the matter is before the courts, he did point out that sexual exploitation crime stats are available to the public.
In 2020, according to an RCMP report, it increased about 6.4 per cent from the previous year.
Police allege the suspect, 20-year-old Firas Alobaid, was using the usernames “M_vixin20” or “Abo_issauk.” It is alleged the individual drove a mid or dark grey 2013 four-door Ford Focus with the licence plate number JFU 475.
Anyone who may have information about the crimes committed in this case or who may be a victim is encouraged to contact the Oromocto RCMP at 506-357-3400.
If anyone has information about any crime including sexual exploitation through the internet, and wishes to remain anonymous, they can contact Crime Stoppers 1-800-222-TIPS (8477).
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