Software to ID gender, age of online writer

Developer hopes Gender Guesser can prevent some pedophile attacks on young people.
Written by ZDNET Editors, Contributor

Gone are the innocent days of the Internet when one could identify oneself as a man, woman or dog and know that the other person couldn't really verify. A new technology claims to be able to profile a user just by how they write online. If it works, the development could offer important inroads into Internet security, reports eSchool news

Based on the notion that men and women have observably different writing styles, researchers at the Illinois Institute of Technology and Bar-Ilan University in Israel developed a way to guess a person's gender from word usage. The new technology, called Gender Guesser, can purportedly identify a writer's gender, age and even whether the writer is American or European.

Though not 100 percent accurate, Gender Guesser may become an important tool in catching plagiarists or uncovering pedophiles in chat rooms. Neal Krawetz, who owns a safe-computing consulting and research company called Hacker Factor Solutions, says its accuracy is between 60 and 70 percent but adds that he's working on methods to increase its effectiveness.

"Americans hate to hear this, but they have a small vocabulary size--someone in England of the same age and background will have two to three times [their] vocabulary," Krawetz said. "Because we have a small vocabulary, we use [the same] 22 words over and over. If someone's European, they'll use these particular words less often."
When tested on the Internet to reveal possible pedophiles, Krawetz got some surprising results.
"I was in a chat room, and one person claimed to be a young child, and [this person was] chatting up a storm. When I did an analysis of the text, I found out he had a college degree. When I called the guy on it, it turns out he was an undercover police officer, and he was very interested to know how I identified him," Krawetz said.
But pedophiles don't typically hide their identities, so the technique may be of marginal usefulness to law enforcement. "In a study of actual incidents, researchers at the Crimes Against Children Research Center found that deception was rare. All of the teens who met with online predators did so knowing that they were interacting with an adult and intending to engage in sex with that adult. The only place where deception appeared to play a role was the deception that the predator actually cared for them," said Nancy Willard, executive director of the Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use at the University of Oregon.
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