MySpace Dodges Age-Verification Bullet -- for Now

Deal With Attorneys General Creates Net-Safety Task Force

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- It appears that MySpace has done enough -- for now -- to placate state attorneys general who had wanted the popular online social network to use age verification as a means to protect its many underage users from sexual predators.

The social-networking site joined with attorneys general from 49 states and the District of Columbia to announce new principles for such sites and, in the process, stave off age-verification legislation several states had been pushing.

With News Corp.'s MySpace and competitor Facebook garnering increased web traffic and membership, attorneys general in states such as New York, North Carolina and Ohio have put pressure on the sites to ensure the protection and safety of its members from registered sex offenders and sexual predators.

The agreement, officially called the "Joint Statement on Key Principles of Social Networking Sites Safety," was unveiled Jan. 14 in New York, and features four parts:
  • Increasing safety measures by improving the site design and functionality of MySpace. Changes include reviewing content more thoroughly and automatically defaulting 16- and 17-year-old users' profiles to private.

  • Creating public-service announcements about online safety and free software for parents that are part of an online-education initiative.

  • Introducing a 24-hour hot line as law enforcement and prosecution of internet crimes continues to grow.

  • Creating a task force to explore better and more efficient online safety tools designed to ensure users safety and security -- including the much-discussed age verification.
"This is an industrywide challenge and we must all work together to create a safer internet," MySpace Chief Security Officer Hemanshu Nigam said in a statement.

The future of this partnership largely depends on how effective the task force is and the progress made in research and development of the online safety tools. If nothing else, it seems that the attorneys general are publicly acknowledging that MySpace is making a concerted effort to ensure the safety and privacy of its members.

Jay Chauduri, a spokesman for North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper, said the attorneys general will proceed based on the results of the task force, which will release its findings at the end of 2008.

"Attorney General Cooper and the other AGs across the country feel the agreement is a landmark document," he said. "MySpace has agreed to make dozens of changes and [with] the establishment of the Internet Safety Technical Task Force, we feel they have taken significant steps with regard to commitment and design changes."

Facebook was not involved in the formation and planning of the task force, although Mr. Chauduri expects that to change soon.

"We intend to reach out to Facebook and invite them to be part of the task force," he said, "and we fully expect them to be part of it. But we're not prepared to announce their membership at this point."
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