Published Date
12 - Apr - 2007
| Last Updated
12 - Apr - 2007

It's almost a given that a young American will have a profile on the social networking site MySpace, which is already venturing into providing local versions in countries such as Japan and France. This, while being under fire for (allegedly) endangering teenagers' safety: MySpace makes it easy for teenagers to share a lot of personal information on the Internet. One needs to be at least 14 to be a MySpace member, but (a) there's nothing, obviously, to prevent younger kids from misrepresenting their age, and (b) 14 seems too young as it is.
The MySpace/parents
/kids/predators issue is big, and probably poised to get bigger. Experts and analysts pointed out long ago that with such a large "kid base" of users, the site is a breeding ground for sexual predators.
It isn't an issue in India, thankfully, because (most, we presume) would-be predators aren't Internet-savvy; however, in other countries-notably the US-gory crimes have happened following kids' posting of too much information online.
Lawsuits were recently filed on behalf of four families, alleging that the site hadn't acted quickly enough to protect minors from adult predators. One 15 year-old girl was "lured to a meeting, drugged and assaulted in 2006 by an adult MySpace user," according to the prosecuting lawyers. Then, two sisters were "sexually assaulted and raped by two adult MySpace users" after being given alcohol. In addition, it has also been revealed that 56,000 MySpace users have fallen victim to a phishing attack that exposed their passwords, allowing Nasty Adults to access their accounts.
MySpace is now creating software that will let parents get some hold on the situation-it will allow them to see what their children are putting up on their profiles. The plan hinges upon the idea that kids give away too much about themselves in the profiles.
Parents will be asked install the software on a home computer and snoop on what their kids lists as his or her profile name, age, and location. It will also track updates to the profiles.
Will it work? Perhaps not. For one, the kids have to use the home computer, and there's nothing to prevent them creating profiles from public computers. (Note that "public computer" means, in the US, something rather different from what it does here: they're all over the place, they all have fast connections, and they're in places like libraries.) Then, there remains the problem that members whose profiles are being monitored will be notified that the software is keeping tabs on them!
MySpace has said in a recent statement that it's an "industry leader in Internet safety." Even so, they went on to say that some of the responsibility for child protection doesn't rest with them. "Ultimately, Internet safety is a shared responsibility. We encourage everyone to apply common-sense offline safety lessons in their online experiences and engage in open family dialogue about smart Web practices." More rhetoric: in another statement, the site's chief security officer declared, "one of MySpace's goals is to empower parents to engage in conversation with their teens about Internet safety."
Because of the 14-as-minimum-age stipulation, 33 US state attorneys are interested in forcing the minimum to be changed to 16. The attorneys also want MySpace to cross-check users' entered information with government databases to verify age.
Should the Net give control to those as young as 14-and even younger? What exactly can parents do? Does the onus of protection rest with the site, the state, with parents, or with the kids themselves? How about making MySpace a kids-only site? No clear answers are sounding out.
As regards the software under development, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper, said it "notifies the parent too late. At best it's after the child has offered his age. At worst, it's when he's already left to meet a child predator."

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