Glide Looks To Improve Safety For Social Networking - InformationWeek

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3/15/2006
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Glide Looks To Improve Safety For Social Networking

TransMedia is adding parental controls, digital rights management, and user preferences in an effort to improve the safety of its social networking and file sharing service.

TransMedia claims it can make the Internet safer. The Internet startup on Thursday plans to release Glide Effortless 1.1, an update of its file sharing and social networking service that aims to balance self-expression with self-protection through digital rights management, parental controls, and user preferences.

The new technology comes as concerns heighten about online safety. Twelve people were arrested Wednesday on charges that they ran a ring that featured live, streaming child pornography on demand, with victims as young as infancy.

Online safety has been a particular concern on social networking services like Glide and MySpace. In early March, the FBI arrested two men in unrelated cases that prosecutors claim are the first federal sexual assault charges related to the use of the social networking site, MySpace. Other cases involved the creation of a fake MySpace profile that led to the arrest of an alleged sexual predator, and online threats of violence posted on MySpace against a middle school student.

TransMedia CEO Donald Leka suggests dangers like the ones on MySpace are the result of insufficient online privacy, and he places the blame on advertising-based business models that aim to maximize audience size through low barriers to entry, even if that invites lowlifes.

"The reason we're able to do this is we're not advertising revenue-based," says Leka. "We can focus on protecting the community. The CEO of MySpace comes out and says 'We're going to do some things to protect the community, but I have to get back to you on that' because he didn't have anything to say. And there's really nothing they can do. They've got 60 million people in there already, and it's not a rules-based system."

But MySpace aims to make its community safer, too, and it disputes the assertion that it can't do anything. The company is addressing the issue through technology, policy, and outreach to interested parties. "This is not something we're just beginning to take notice of," says company spokesperson Dani Dudeck. "Online safety is something we've always taken seriously." The site uses automated search technology to identify underage subscribers through discrepancies in their profiles and cancel their accounts. It has already eliminated some 200,000 accounts this way. It also has some 90 of its 300 personnel engaged in handling customer service and privacy issues. CEO Chris DeWolfe has said additional security measures are forthcoming.

Still, the fact that MySpace makes a 24-hour hotline available so that law enforcement officials can immediately reach company personnel suggests the scope of the problem as much as it does the company's commitment to deal with it.

Teresa Schilling, a spokesperson for the California Office of the Attorney General, says online social networking sites can pose risks. She cautions, however, that it's often hard to quantify the extent to which online activities contribute to real-world crime. While the prospect of pedophiles prowling social networking sites grabs headlines, she suggests identity theft--fake online profiles created to embarrass or harass--represents a more common problem.

Schilling and Dudeck both note that there's much to be said for user education. Protections against online ills wouldn't be necessary if users revealed less about themselves. Education also benefits parents because technical ignorance can lead to unreasonable fears.

Rules have traditionally been few and far between on the Internet, but that's been changing, thanks to the rise in cybercrime and efforts to sell high-value digital media online. The government, in its effort to subpoena information from Google, is attempting to prove that the law can protect minors online better than technology. But technical solutions like Glide's can be implemented with fewer hurdles, and they can be applied on a personal rather than national basis.

Launched in late November 2005, Glide Society, the company's online social networking, storage, and file sharing service, has tens of thousands of members and would likely have more if TransMedia hadn't required the submission of a credit card number to keep people from abusing free accounts. But Leka says the subscriber base is growing rapidly and adds that with the new software release, the service will offer a less off-putting means of identity verification.

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