RealTime IT News

Parental Controls Don't Save MySpace

Just a day after announcing new monitoring software, MySpace and its parent company News Corp. were sued for fraud and negligence by four families who say their teen daughters were assaulted by adult members of the social-networking site.

In individual lawsuits filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, families from New York, Texas, Pennsylvania and South Carolina allege negligence, recklessness, fraud and negligent misrepresentation. The legal action came as MySpace confirmed it developed software allowing parents to keep better tabs on teens online.

"In our view, MySpace waited entirely too long to attempt to institute meaningful security measures that effectively increase the safety of their underage users," attorney Jason Itkin of Houston-based Arnold & Itkin said. Itkin and Austin, Texas-based law firm Barry & Loewy seek a jury trial.

The lawsuits seeking unspecified damages name six 14- and 15-year old girls, identified only as "Julie Doe II" through "Julie Doe VI." In one instance, a 14-year-old New York girl was lured, drugged and assaulted by an adult MySpace member.

"They were all lured out of their home and assaulted by members of MySpace," Itkin told internetnews.com.

This isn't the first time a younger member has linked MySpace with an assault. In 2006, a 14-year-old Austin, Texas, girl, assaulted by an adult she met online, sued MySpace for $30 million.

Despite the controversy, MySpace allows 14-year-old users to join the site. Last year, MySpace tightened access to underage membersrequiring users 18 and older to know the e-mail address or first and last names of children they'd like to contact.

Itkin called MySpace's planned software a "small step in the right direction" but the site isn't interested in any real monitoring, the lawyer charged. For some time, MySpace critics, including a group of 33 state attorneys generals, have charged the site won't verify the age of users.

"MySpace knows these predators are on their Web site," according to the lawyer. For its part, MySpace said it will screen new members against a nationwide database of convicted child predators.

MySpace's security chief said both parents and children need to work together to ensure online safety. "Ultimately, Internet safety is a shared responsibility," said Hemanshu Nigam, a former Department of Justice child exploitation prosecutor. Nigam said the site encourages "open family dialogue about smart Web practices."

The response is another instance by MySpace of blaming the victim, another lawyer charged. "Blaming the families of abuse victims who were solicited online, as some have done, is a cynical excuse that ignores the fact that social-networking sites can lead to heinous abuse by Internet predators," said Adam Loewry of Barry & Loewry.