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Two-year effort nets online safety pact between MySpace, state AGs

Social network agrees to add 60-plus features to protect underage users from predators

By Heather Havenstein
January 14, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - After two years of discussions, MySpace Inc. and a group of state attorneys general today announced the creation of a new set of principles aimed at stepping up online safety on MySpace and other social networking sites.

As part of the agreement, which has the backing of 49 of the state attorneys general (minus Texas) and the District of Columbia, MySpace has agreed to implement 60 new features or design changes intended to protect children from online predators. The pact also calls on MySpace to create a new Internet Safety Technical Task Force to explore and develop age and identity verification tools for social networking sites.

"This agreement today should set the standard for social networking sites across the globe that have been quick to grow but slow to recognize their responsibility for keeping kids safe," said Roy Cooper, North Carolina's attorney general and co-chairman of the 49-state task force on online safety. The group has long been pushing MySpace to create tighter safeguards to protect users of its site, he noted during a press conference in New York to unveil the agreement.

"MySpace is tackling some of the riskiest elements of social networking," Cooper said. "Children can easily give these predators a road map by communicating personal information to them through social networking sites. The results can be horrifying."

For example, Cooper announced in July that his state had identified more than 29,000 registered sex offenders among MySpace's registered users -- more than four times what MySpace said in May it had found in an investigation.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett said today that in 2006, his state's online child predator unit found that eight of the 27 predators it arrested were using MySpace to attempt to lure victims; in 2007, 31 of the 54 people arrested by that unit were using MySpace, he said.

Hemanshu Nigam, chief security officer at MySpace and Fox Interactive Media, noted that MySpace has been a "pioneer" in the area of online safety, and he urged other social networking sites to join the partnership with the attorneys general. For example, he pointed out that MySpace now views all videos and images that are uploaded to the site and makes the default settings for all 14- and 15-year-old users "private."

As part of the agreement, Nigam said that MySpace will automatically make the default settings for 16- and 17-year-olds "private" as well, he said.

"We have embraced a constant focus on online safety as one of the best ways to make sure users come back to MySpace," he noted. "It is time to go to the next level ... [and] join forces with attorneys general across the country. We look forward to continuing to work with our industry ... to ensure that the bar is set to protect all young people online."

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