Can MySpace Protect Its People?

MySpace said this week it has found a way to protect its users from convicted sexual offenders, but Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal calls it “ineffective.”

Sentinel Safe, database technology developed by online verification firm Sentinel Tech and MySpace, will collect the background information on 550,000 convicted sex offenders now listed in numerous individual state and federal databases.

The database will be frequently updated with
identifiable details of convicted sex offenders, including name, age and
physical attributes, and it will compare user profiles in real-time with records of offenders.

MySpace said in a statement it will hire new staff to provide 24-hour
monitoring, which will include deleting accounts by sex offenders discovered by Sentinal Safe.

MySpace and Sentinel Tech were unavailable for comment.

“We are committed to keeping sex offenders off MySpace,” Hemanshu Nigam,
MySpace chief security officer, said in a statement. The database is a
“significant step to keep our members as safe as possible.”

MySpace said Sentinal Safe resulted from talks with North Carolina Attorney
General Roy Cooper and Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal. But in a statement, Blumenthal called the new measure “ineffective without age and
identity verification.

“Convicted sexual offenders” can swiftly circumvent
these protections by using fake names,” he said. The tobacco and alcohol industries already employ age and identity
verification on the Internet, he added.

Nigam said a gap will still remain in the ability to keep sex offenders off
social-networking sites until legislation is passed forcing convicted
offenders to use registered e-mail addresses.

MySpace, with an estimate 135 million users, has been beset by charges it does
not go far enough to protect underage users.

Earlier this year, MySpace instituted
a number of membership changes, including limiting contact between users above 18-years old with those under 16. The social-networking site also made it possible for users to set their profiles to private, as well as make ads more age
appropriate.

The changes left some child-safety advocates unimpressed.

“If predators really want to get around [the barrier] they can easily do
it,” Ron Teixeira, executive director of the National Cyber Security
Alliance, said. A blog titled MyCrimeSpace.com lists news items of adults meeting children on the
social-networking site.

According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, one in
seven Internet users between ages 10 and 17 are solicited for sex online.
MySpace said it will continue to work with the child-safety group and law
enforcement to identify suspects and help investigations.

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