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NAAGazette

Attorneys General Announce Agreement with MySpace Regarding Social Networking Safety

Nick Alexander, Criminal Law Counsel

Nick Alexander, Criminal Law Counsel

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper, on behalf of 49 states and the District of Columbia, announced a landmark agreement this month with MySpace, a social networking website, to take significant steps to better protect children on its site, including the creation of a broad-based task force to explore and develop age and identity verification technology.

MySpace acknowledged in the agreement the important role of this technology in social networking safety and agreed to find and develop on-line identity authentication tools. The Attorneys General have advocated age and identity verification, calling it vital to better protecting children using social networking sites from on-line sexual predators and inappropriate material.

The Attorneys General said there are more than 60 specific design features and changes, in addition to the task force, which are all part of the agreement.

Other specific changes and policies that MySpace agreed to develop include: allowing parents to submit their children’s email addresses so MySpace can prevent anyone using those addresses 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.

The agreement culminates nearly two years of discussions between MySpace and the Attorneys General. The talks were led by Attorneys General Cooper and Blumenthal, co-chairs of the Executive Committee consisting of Connecticut, North Carolina, Georgia, Idaho, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and the District of Columbia.

MySpace, a popular online networking site for children and adults, has repeatedly been used by predators to communicate sexually explicit messages to children and to arrange face-to-face meetings. Law enforcement investigators have posed as teenagers on MySpace to lure predators into inappropriate conversations and encounters, efforts which helped increase awareness of the problem of teens pretending to be adults and adults pretending to be teens.

The announcement, which was made January 14 in New York city --- MySpace headquarters, is the start of a partnership with law enforcement that that calls for industry-wide cooperation. The Attorneys General of North Carolina, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Ohio also attended the event held in Midtown Manhattan. Representatives from the Offices of the Attorneys General from New York and Mississippi were also present, along with Hemanshu Nigam, chief security officer for MySpace.com.

“We’re joining forces to find the most effective ways to keep young children off these sites and to protect the kids who do use them,” Attorney General Cooper said. “This agreement sets a new standard for social networking sites that have been quick to grow but slow to recognize their responsibility to keep kids safe.”

Attorney General Blumenthal also acknowledged that “this agreement is a promising step toward an industry gold standard for social networking safety. Together, we open a new frontier in social networking safety --- acknowledging the importance of age and identity authentication and committing to explore and develop it. This agreement reflects my longstanding, deeply held belief that the industry must aim higher to keep kids safer. I urge others --- social networking sites, technology companies, non-profits --- to support these principles and join the task force.”

Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett said, “My office has seen the number of arrested predators using MySpace nearly double over the past year. This agreement makes it hard for adults to sexually solicit children online.”

Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann said, “The terms of the settlement announced today are creative and innovative steps that will help protect our children and serve as an example for other social networking sites. The actions taken demonstrate that the company shares my commitment to safeguarding our children from on-line predators.”

New Jersey Attorney General Anne Milgram said, “The Internet can be a dangerous place for children and young adults, with sexual predators surfing social networking sites in search of potential victims and cyber bullies sending threatening and anonymous messages. In New Jersey, we developed a Report Abuse! icon with on-line links to specifically empower visitors to social networking sites with the ability to swiftly report abusive and potentially criminal behavior. Our icon, which was adopted by MyYearbook and the five social networking sites of Community Connect, is distinctive and appears on every content-containing page. It’s an important tool to protect kids, and we urge MySpace to join this cooperative effort to make social networking sites safer.”

New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said, “The importance of protecting our children from on-line predators is painfully obvious. This agreement underscores how critical it is that parents, on-line companies and law enforcement work together and find real solutions to protect young people from dangers on-line. By agreeing to accept an Independent Safety and Security Examiner, MySpace is admirably following Facebook by embracing a real solution that raises the bar for the rest of the on-line industry to follow.”

The Attorneys General also commended MySpace for its efforts to address social networking safety issues.

Under the agreement, MySpace, with support from the Attorneys General, will 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 identity 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 will also 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 work 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;
  • Provide a way to report abuse on every page that contains content, consider adopting a common mechanism to report abuse and respond quickly to abuse reports;
  • Create a closed “high school” section for users under 18.

The 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:

  • Online Safety Task Force. As part of the Principles, 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.
  • Site Design and Functionality. The Principles incorporate safety initiatives that MySpace has already implemented (Appendix A attached) and initiatives it will work to implement over in the coming months (Appendix B attached). Examples of safety features MySpace has in place include reviewing every image and video uploaded to the site, reviewing groups, making the profiles of 14- and 15-year-old users automatically private and helping to protect them from being contacted by adults that they don’t already know in the offline world, and deleting registered sex offenders from MySpace.
  • MySpace has also agreed to consider a common abuse reporting mechanism and has agreed to provide a means to report abuse on every content containing page, also allowing users to easily categorize the type of offensive content at issue via a drop-down menu. MySpace will try to acknowledge reports made via the Report Abuse mechanism within 24 hours and will report back to consumers within 72 hours of receiving complaints.

  • Education and Tools for Parents, Educators and Children. The Principles acknowledge that MySpace has already been devoting meaningful resources to Internet safety education including a new online safety public service announcement targeted at parents and free parental monitoring software that is under development. 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, under the Principles 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.

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