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Last Updated: Tuesday, 3 July 2007, 13:20 GMT 14:20 UK
The 'anti-child grooming' website
Man using keyboard
The site can work out the real age of the person at the keyboard
A site that offers child-protection software to parents concerned that their children may be "groomed" by paedophiles on the internet is the latest idea of one of Britain's youngest internet entrepreneurs.

Crisp Thinking, which monitors children's conversations online and sends alerts if it detects anything suspicious, is the brainchild of 22-year-old Adam Hildreth - whose previous venture was the successful youth marketing company Dubit.com.

Crisp Thinking looks at interactions between people on instant messenger or other applications to gauge whether one half of the conversation is coming from a groomer rather than a child.

"We've basically developed a relationship system that looks at the kind of patterns that we know groomers use in their relationship development," Mr Hildreth told BBC World Service's Digital Planet programme.

"It looks at the kind of questions they ask when they start the relationship, what they start saying, how they gain the trust of the child. It's extremely sophisticated."

Conversational DNA

Mr Hildreth won the Confederation of British Industry's Young Entrepreneur of the Year award for his work in setting up the site.

It works through parents downloading an application from the company's website protectingeachother.com.

Bill Thompson
Many parents who don't quite understand the technology will think this will just solve the problem for them
Technology analyst Bill Thompson

The software is set up to look for the differences between children's conversations with their genuine peers and those with someone pretending to be a child.

For example, a conversation in which questions feature a lot may be one indicator, as when children know each other they tend not to ask each other things.

"In every conversation that goes on between individual users, we look at 270-plus different things," Mr Hildreth explained.

"We put them all together to develop a sort of DNA, or a fingerprint, for that person."

These include how sexual a person is being, how aggressive they are, and the sort of questions they ask.

"Each of those on its own doesn't really give you anything - but once you put it together with the algorithms we develop, you end up with a really good view of what type of person it is and what they're trying to get out of the child," Mr Hildreth added.

If the conversations do appear suspicious and it seems a groomer is involved, the alarm is raised through an alert to the child by instant message, e-mail and SMS text message.

The parent is also informed and given access to the elements of the conversation that have triggered the alarm.

Parental trust

However, Mr Hildreth also admits that, while the software is "very, very close" to being 100% accurate, there did remain a risk of "false positives".

"We never say, 'They might be being groomed' - we always say, 'This is a relationship you should take a look at'," he added.

Meanwhile, technology analyst Bill Thompson said he feared some parents may find the software "slightly too reassuring" and not take adequate measures themselves.

"Many parents who don't quite understand the technology will think it will just solve the problem for them, and then just disregard the real issues," he said.

"But for me, a bigger problem with any service like this is that it's teaching our children that anything they do online is going to be monitored and read and looked at, and that they can't have any private space.

"Although it's important to protect children from potential abuse, I think that these mechanisms, which are based around listening to every conversation the child has, give them the wrong idea about how they can be trusted by their parents."

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