Monday, January 14, 2008

MySpace Agrees to New Safety Measures

MySpace has agreed with North Carolina and 44 other states to add extensive measures to combat sexual predators and to prevent others from misusing the social networking Web site.

“We’re joining forces to find the most effective ways to keep young children off these sites and to protect the kids who do use them,” North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper said Monday.

He and 49 other attorneys general announced the agreement Monday in Manhattan after they sought greater controls for such sites as MySpace, Facebook and other social sites to prevent sexual predators from using those sites to contact children.

“This agreement sets a new standard for social networking sites that have been quick to grow but slow to recognize their responsibility to keep kids safe,” Cooper said.

MySpace acknowledged in the agreement the important role of age and identity verification technology and agreed to find and develop online identity authentication tools, the attorney general's office said in a news release.

Other specific changes and policies that MySpace agreed to develop include:

* Allowing parents to submit their children’s e-mail addresses to restrict their child's access to the site.

* Making the default profile setting “private” for 16- and 17-year-olds.

* Creating a closed "high school" section for users under 18 years old.

* Strengthening software to find underage users.

* Implementing changes to make it harder for adults to contact children.

* Promising to respond within 72 hours to inappropriate content complaints.

* Committing more staff and resources to review and classify photographs and discussion groups.

Cooper commended MySpace for its willingness to make its site safer, calling it an industry leader and urging other social networks to adopt the safety principles in the agreement.

“This agreement tackles some of the most risky elements of social networking, but we must do even more to keep kids safe online,” said Cooper. “We’ll keep pushing to find child predators and put them behind bars, and well keep urging parents to pay attention to what their kids are doing on the computer.”

Investigators have increasingly examined MySpace, and similar social networking sites that allow people to post information and images on the Web and invite contacts from others.

Last year, New York investigators said they set up Facebook profiles as 12- to 14-year olds and were quickly contacted by other users looking for sex.

A multistate investigation of the sites — announced last year — was aimed at putting together measures to protect minors and remove pornographic material, but lawsuits were possible, officials said.

"We thank the attorneys general for a thoughtful and constructive conversation on Internet safety," MySpace Chief Security Officer Hemanshu Nigam said in a written statement. "This is an industrywide challenge, and we must all work together to create a safer Internet."

He said the agreement includes measures "to provide a safer online experience for teens, and we look forward to sharing our ongoing safety innovations with other companies."

"I think that it's a great thing," Exploris Middle School teacher Leah Perry said of Monday's announcement. "I think that it's about time that we kept up with the technology in the form of parenting and policing."

Perry, also the mother of a ninth-grader, said it will take much more than tougher laws and online restrictions to protect children, adding that parents staying in their children's business is also vital.

"When you're an adolescent is when you're more vulnerable," she said. You're not sure who you are."

"There are a lot of people pretending to be something they're not," Perry added. "These kids think they're invincible."

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