Updated 13 minutes ago
A computer-generated 10-year-old Filipina 'girl' named Sweetie has helped an international children's rights group track 1,000 alleged internet sex offenders, including Australians.
The group Terre des Hommes went online with the lifelike, digitally animated persona and was inundated with potential predators from 71 different countries.
The largest numbers of named suspects came from the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia, Germany, Turkey, Italy and the Netherlands.
'Sweetie's' video chat partners thought they were talking to a Flipina minor, but they were in fact communicating with a team in a warehouse in the Dutch capital Amsterdam.
The team was recording everything and looking for clues to their identity, which were then handed to Interpol.
"In 10 weeks, we traced 1,000 men from all over the world who were willing to pay Sweetie to perform sexual acts in front of the webcam," Terre des Homes's Netherlands director Albert Jaap van Santbrink said.
"Our worst-case scenario is that the same will happen with this phenomenon as with child p*ornography, which is now a multi-billion industry in the hands of criminal gangs."
Terre des Hommes urged authorities to tackle the growing problem of minors being coaxed into performing sexual acts in front of a webcam, and said it would provide them with the technology it had developed.
"The predator won't come forward. The victim won't come forward," Terre des Hommes activist Hans Guyt said.
"This requires a new way of policing."
He said the researchers had used circumstantial evidence, including handles on Skype and profiles on social networks, to identify suspects.
"We identified ourselves as 10-year-old Filipino girls," Mr Guyt said.
"We did not solicit anything unless it was offered to us."
However, the European Union policing agency Europol expressed reservations about Terre des Hommes's approach.
"We believe that criminal investigations using intrusive surveillance measures should be the exclusive responsibility of law enforcement agencies," Europol spokesman Soren Pedersen said.