RealTime IT News

MySpace Accountability in Amber Alerts?

Social-networking site MySpace, frequently blamed for not protecting its youngest users, today teamed up with a child protection group to distribute online alerts of missing kids.

As part of the agreement with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), MySpace users within a specific ZIP code will see an Amber Alert notification at the top of their profiles. Users can then view the victim's photo and information about the suspect.

"Amber Alerts on MySpace give users nationwide the opportunity to help in the recovery of an abducted child in their area -- just by logging on," Hemanshu Nigam, the site's chief security officer, said in a statement.

Nigam added that MySpace will continue working with industry leaders on developing creative programs that share the goal of protecting teens.

Robert Hover, director of the center's special operations, told internetnews.com that MySpace approached NCMEC with the idea. AOL, Yahoo and MSN already provide Amber Alerts to their members, said Hover.

MySpace also announced it was rolling out two new security tools for members. The site will begin requiring new users to provide valid e-mail addresses that must be confirmed when creating profiles.

An "over/under" feature blocking access based on age was expanded to adults. MySpace said it deletes on average 25,000 profiles each week due to users falsifying their age. Much of that is because older users wanted to use security features previously available only to members under 18.

Today's news comes just a week after four families sued MySpace on behalf of teen daughters who allegedly were assaulted by adult members of the site.

A MySpace insider talking on condition of anonymity denied that today's announcement was in response to the lawsuit. The Amber Alerts and new tools are "part of a broad and ongoing effort at MySpace to help protect the privacy of community members and provide a safer environment for users to connect online."

Critics of MySpace, such as Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, want to verify the age of users, which is something the site says is impossible with children.

MySpace earlier confirmed it was working on software, code-named Zephyr, that allows parents to check whether their child is using the correct name and age online. The software won't be available until summer.

The NCMEC said Zephyr wasn't a silver bullet against child predators, only part of an "arsenal of child safety tools."