I have always been leery of government passing laws about Internet safety (read here and here) because I view them as mostly posing by politicians. Also, I am of the opinion that the private sector is much better at most things than government, and Internet safety is no exception. That is why I was thrilled to read about the taskforce being spearheaded by Harvard and MySpace (and joined by other groups such as Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo!).
The aim of the taskforce is to protect children from online predators. Though laws can often spawn action by private organizations (examples are compliance regulations), they are woefully inadequate when it comes to protecting children online. This is for a multitude of reasons, not the least of which is that criminals, by definition, break the law. But when a group of technologists get together to try to solve the problem, the game starts to change. They will be looking for proactive ways to protect children rather than punishing organizations for not enabling technology that doesn't exist yet.
A quote from the article expresses doubt at the move:
But this all comes at an odd time, as another recent study published in Pediatrics said that online predators tend to prefer methods other than social networks to get in touch with children. Instead, they like to stick to chat rooms and IM, with the authors of the study concluding, "broad claims of victimization risk, at least defined as unwanted sexual solicitation or harassment, associated with social networking sites do not seem justified."
I understand this doubt, but I also have to say that child safety modifies the risk equation because ALL avenues of attack need to be mitigated, even if the risk is low. Also, there nothing to say that the taskforce can't tackle the other problems as well.
I applaud this move. Though the problem is daunting, I can't help but have a positive attitude about this taskforce.