State Reaches Agreement with MySpace to Protect Children from Sexual Predators

Attorneys general say the News Corporation-owned MySpace Social Networking website was used repeatedly by sexual predators to victimize children

BALTIMORE (Jan. 14, 2008) - Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler today announced that Maryland, 48 other states, and the District of Columbia have reached an agreement with MySpace that includes significant steps to better protect children on its web site, including creation of a broad-based task force to explore and develop age and identity verification technology. The states pushed MySpace for changes after sexual predators repeatedly used the site to victimize children.

The agreement culminates nearly two years of discussions between MySpace and the attorneys general. Other specific changes and policies that MySpace agreed to develop include: allowing parents to submit their children's emails so MySpace can prevent anyone using those emails from setting up profiles, making the default setting "private" for profiles of 16- and 17-year-olds, promising to respond within 72 hours to inappropriate content complaints, and committing more staff and/or resources to review and classify photographs and discussion groups.

"As the popularity of social networking sites continues to grow, the steps being taking by MySpace are essential to helping keep our young people safer online," said Attorney General Gansler. "It is the responsibility of these sites to take the steps necessary to protect children from predators and to educate parents about the steps they can take to help prevent their child from becoming a victim while online."

As part of the agreement, MySpace, with support from the attorneys general, will also create and lead an Internet Safety Technical Task Force to explore and develop age and identity verification tools for social networking web sites. MySpace will invite other social networking sites, age and identify verification experts, child protection groups and technology companies to participate in the task force. The task force will report back to the attorneys general every three months and issue a formal report with findings and recommendations at the end of 2008.

MySpace also will hire a contractor to compile a registry of email addresses provided by parents who want to restrict their child's access to the site. MySpace will bar anyone using a submitted email address from signing in or creating a profile.

MySpace also agreed to:

-- Strengthen software identifying underage users;

-- Retain a contractor to better identify and expunge inappropriate images;

-- Obtain and constantly update a list of pornographic web sites and regularly sever any links between them and MySpace;

-- Implement changes making it harder for adults to contact children;

-- Dedicate meaningful resources to educating children and parents about on-line safety;

-- Review its icon to report abuse to determine whether it should be modified or replaced;

-- Create a closed "high school" section for users under 18.

The Agreement, entitled "Joint Statement on Key Principles of Social Networking Safety," recognizes that an ongoing industry effort is required to keep pace with the latest technological developments and develop additional ways to protect teens, including online identity authentication tools. The Principles of Social Networking fall into four categories:

-- Site Design and Functionality. The Principles incorporate safety initiatives that MySpace has already implemented and initiatives it will work to implement in the coming months.

-- Education and Tools for Parents, Educators and Children. MySpace will explore the establishment of a children's email registry that will empower parents to prevent their children from having access to MySpace or other any other social networking sites. In addition, MySpace will increase its communications with consumers who report or complain about inappropriate content or activity on the site.

-- Law Enforcement Cooperation. The parties will continue to work together to enhance the ability of law enforcement officials to investigate and prosecute Internet crimes.

-- Online Safety Task Force. MySpace will organize, with support of the Attorneys General, an industry-wide Internet Safety Technical Task Force to develop online safety tools, including a review of identity authentication tools. The Task Force will include Internet businesses, identity authentication experts, non-profit organizations, academics and technology companies.

Myspace is owned by the international media conglomerate News Corporation which was founded by Rupert Murdoch. The corporation owns newspapers, the Fox television companies, film studios, satellite television assets, magazines, internet sites, and book publishing companies.

Source: Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler

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