Children's charity the NSPCC and senior officers from the Child Exploitation Protection Centre have joined together to call for greater controls on smartphone apps, which they say are making it "easier than ever before for people to be bullied and abused online".
Child protection officers are concerned about the growing number of cases where physical contact with the children does not appear to be a motivation for the offenders involved.
CEOP chief executive Peter Davies says the invention of apps that let strangers talk to children, pinpoint their location and send explicit images are making blackmail through pictures and videos is becoming increasingly common.
"One of the operations we completed last year was two men in Kuwait, purely online, abusing and blackmailing children, particularly girls, in the UK and around the world, dozens of them," he added.
"For a growing proportion of grooming cases reported to us, online abuse is an end in itself. Children may be targeted because of their vulnerability but any child can be a victim. What is apparent is that parents and carers can make that vital difference whether or not a child becomes a victim of these ruthless predators online."
There has been a sharp rise in smartphone usage in the past year with six out of ten 12-15 year olds now owning one; an increase of 21% on 2011.
CEOP's latest figures show that instant messaging was used to make contact with children in around one third of reports of inappropriate sexual contact and that more than two thirds of parents of 12-15 year olds with a phone that can be used to go online do not have parental controls or 'filters'.This compares to the one in two parents who have technical controls in place for their child's PC or laptop.
Claire Lilly, from the NSPCC, said: "The internet is part and parcel of young lives and most can’t remember a world before it existed.
"We cannot put the genie back in the bottle, but we can talk to young people and educate them on staying safe online just as we do about stranger danger or drugs.
"A new generation of smartphone apps are presenting yet more problems. Ceop are doing a great job in tracking down ever-more sophisticated offenders and technology companies are starting to improve their safeguards but this problem will not go away until everyone - ISPs, mobile phone companies, parents, schools and young people themselves - play their part in tackling it."
Posted 05/02/2013 by firstname.lastname@example.org