MySpace adopts plan targeting predators

An agreement reached between MySpace and 49 state attorneys general may soon make the site safer from sexual predators who find their victims on the online.

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, along with MySpace representatives and other attorneys general from every state except Texas, announced a new plan Monday that they say will dramatically increase security and privacy for MySpace users under 18 years old. The new strategies — to be implemented and evaluated over this year — will include an “Internet Safety Technical Task Force” and an e-mail registry for parents to prevent their children from joining MySpace, according to a statement issued by Blumenthal.

“This is a good step, a promising and significant step, but by no means the end,” Blumenthal said in a phone interview. “This is no magic bullet or panacea.”

The task force recommended by the attorneys general will explore the development of software to accurately verify user ages and identities. In addition, parents concerned about the safety of MySpace may enter their child’s e-mail address into a registration system preventing the child from creating a MySpace account using that e-mail address.

MySpace will issue four reports during the year, announcing its progress in eliminating online predators and following the recommendations. Still, MySpace will be implementing these recommendations on a voluntary basis.

This announcement comes at a time when Internet-safety advocacy groups, such as national group Enough is Enough, are calling for greater child protection from pedophiles, child pornographers and sexual predators lurking online.

Last November, two female teenagers were raped in East Haven, allegedly by two men they met on MySpace. Juan Carlos Coello, 19, and Julio Quambana, 18, were arrested later that day on charges of sexual assault and reckless endangerment. Coello was released on $25,000 bond and is expected to next appear at court Feb. 1.

Blumenthal, along with North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper, has spearheaded negotiations with MySpace to bring stronger safeguards to the Web site for nearly two years.

Cris Clapp, Enough is Enough’s congressional liaison, said MySpace has consistently worked toward increasing its safety features, and that the implementation of the recommendations made by the attorneys general will certainly help to ensure that users under 18 years of age do not become targets.

But, she said, the online social networking industry still has a long way to go toward creating a reliable system of investigation that guarantees privacy for its users. The technology used to track sexual predators is currently “not so great,” she said, and has plenty of room for improvement.

“MySpace is definitely going to be a more secure space,” Clapp said. “But it can always do more.”

Other new regulations to be implemented by MySpace include new privacy defaults. Now, all users who register as under 18 years old will automatically have private profiles, which cannot be viewed by anyone but a user’s approved friends. Before, only 14- and 15-year-old users were required to make their profiles private.

In addition, MySpace will begin tracking every image and video uploaded to the Web site, deleting those that they find to be inappropriate, Clapp said.

Clapp said MySpace was “brave to step out” and work with the U.S. attorneys general on creating new internet safety regulations. She said she hopes other social networking Web sites, such as Facebook, will follow in MySpace’s footsteps.

Facebook has expressed interest in cooperating with the same recommendations MySpace has implemented, Blumenthal said.

MySpace is the largest social networking Web site in the world with over 300 million active users.

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