Tales from the Net

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Myspace and 49 state attorneys general announce “industry guidelines” for child safety

Myspace has announced a set of child safety measures — and proposed them as industry-wide standards.  Scott Duke Harris reports in the San Jose Mercury News:

Under an agreement with attorneys general of 49 states, MySpace agreed to a host of policy changes, including changing the default setting to “private” for 16- and 17-year-old users. The move represents another departure from the open, free-wheeling culture that helped make MySpace a teen sensation. Another measure allows parents to submit children’s e-mail addresses to limit the potential for the creation of bogus profiles.

There’s general praise for the change in default settings and other improvements like making it easier to report obscene content and abusive behavior.  Criticism has centered on the address list.  First of all, it’s not really likely to help very much, since kids can (gasp!) easily create new email addresses on gmail or hotmail or a zillion other sites.  And as Parry Aftab of Wiredsafety.org points out in the article:

“There’s no system that will work for age verification without putting kids at risk,” she said. “Age verification requires that you have a database of kids and if you do, that database is available to hackers and anyone who can get into it.”

Paula Selis, a senior counsel in the consumer protection division of the Washington State Attorney General’s Office, describes it as a “good start” in a Seattle Post-Intelligencer article, and noting that one out of five kids has been solicited online adds “you are going to probably see it proliferate even more and (be) used for even more things.”

Andy Greenberg’s MySpace’s Shaky Safety Balance on Forbes.com talks about MySpace’s challenges in this situation, and does a good job both of presenting privacy advocate’s concerns as well as those government officials (such as the Texas attorney general, who refused to sign on) who argue the filtering system still hasn’t gone far enough because it doesn’t require age verification — and the challenges of technical reality:

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal pushed MySpace to go further by creating a system that would automatically block users below the site’s minimum age of 14, and also prevent sexual predators from impersonating teens. “If we can put a man on the moon, we can do age and identity verification,” he said.

MySpace Chief Security Officer Hemanshu Nigam wasn’t so sure. “Today, there is no product that can prevent someone from pretending to be a different age than they really are,” he told reporters.

posted by Jon at 5:29 pm  


  1. […] their software and running their site.   One of the objections to the potential email list in the MySpace “child safety” agreement with state attorneys general was that the list would be valuable to spammers and scammers as well as child predators.  […]

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