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Canadian teens cuffed over alleged Snapchat child sex pics ring

'Self-destructing' selfies not destroyed after all

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Ten Canadian teens face child pornography charges after allegedly trading explicit photos of young girls that they had surreptitiously saved from sexting-friendly photo-sharing service Snapchat.

The boys, all aged 13 to 15, allegedly coerced the girls into sending pictures of themselves in sexual poses or performing sexual acts by convincing them that Snapchat photos can only be viewed for a few seconds and are then automatically deleted from the receiver's phone, the CBC reports.

Time-limited viewing is certainly one of the most touted features of Snapchat, which was this week valued at $3bn by Facebook despite having no source of revenue. But security researchers have long warned that the privacy of photos and messages sent using the service may not be as secure as users believe.

In this case, police officers allege the boys used hacks that allowed them to save the girls' pictures to their phones even after the time limit had elapsed. They then purportedly traded the photos among themselves without the girls' knowledge or consent.

CTV News Montreal reports that police have identified seven girls who had been victimized in the scheme, some of whom were reportedly the boys' own girlfriends. The ages of the girls were not disclosed, but they are said to be around the same ages as the boys.

The scheme was reportedly uncovered when a school staff member noticed one of the boys looking at explicit pictures on his phone. After that student's parents were notified, it emerged that multiple such photos had been shared among students at two high schools and one junior high school, all located in Laval, Quebec, a suburb of Montreal.

All ten of the boys have now been charged with possession and distribution of child pornography, and two face an additional charge relating to the production of child pornography. They are scheduled to appear in court on Thursday.

Snapchat could not be reached for comment on the matter, but it has published a brochure [PDF] for parents whose children use the service. In it, the company recommends that parents reprimand children who send sexually explicit messages and remind them of the criminal nature of such acts, even between other minors.

"Ask them to delete any copies they may have saved and inform the recipients of the serious criminal consequences of possessing or distributing sexually explicit images of a minor," the guide explains. "Contact your local law enforcement if you feel it is appropriate or necessary."

However, the guide also goes on to explain that once a photo has been viewed and deleted, it is "usually impossible" for Snapchat to recover it, "even for law enforcement." ®

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