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.

Thomas Claburn, Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

March 15, 2006

7 Min Read

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. Glide is similar in many respects to Apple's .Mac service. Both services offer online storage, but Glide's prices are better, and it works with Windows. Glide Free is free and comes with 300 Mbytes of disk space; Glide Standard costs $4.95 a month or $49.95 a year for 1.5 Gbytes; and Glide Premium Costs $9.95 a month or $99.95 a year for 4 Gbytes. Apple's .Mac costs $99.95 per year for 1 Gbyte.

Apple's service has the edge in terms of data synchronization, which can be automated using the company's .Mac Backup software and .Mac Sync. But Leka promises similar functionality from TransMedia's Glide Link desktop sync application later this year. Glide Link, he says, is being reworked to facilitate automated file synchronization as well as copyright-friendly peer-to-peer file transfers.

Storage, however, is only the foundation. Glide is built for sharing and E-commerce. Its social network consists of 11 environments, with more on the way, that emphasize different aspects of file sharing. Most of them behave as their respective names suggest: Glide Photos deals with photo sharing, and Glide Music deals with music sharing. Glide LiveShare is a videoconferencing system.

Glide Shops is a drag-and-drop online shopping environment that, at the moment, features chocolates. In late April, it will include over 800,000 songs supplied by The Orchard, a New York-based digital music distribution company. That's also when Glide Mobile, a version of the service for mobile phones, is set to debut.

The updated Glide software extends users' DRM file controls to access rights to and for their children. The new Family Account Manager lets parents define who can and cannot contact family members, and specify child-safe Web favorites and allowed Glide environments. The new Glide Society profiles can be made public or private and can be made inaccessible to searches. Uploaded files can be protected the same way. Glide Canvas is a new a drag-and-drop Web site creation tool that comes with a variety of customizable templates and parental protection options.

TransMedia, of course, isn't the only company pitching technology to mitigate online privacy risks. Earlier this week, Microsoft said it will be offering a free Web-based safety service called Windows Live Family Safety Settings to help consumers protect themselves and their families online. Apple's latest operating system, Mac OS X Tiger, released in April 2005, has similar family-friendly features. And there's no shortage of Internet companies attempting to deal with specific privacy problems by offering services like encrypted E-mail or anonymous Web browsing, not to mention all those in the content filtering business.

But TransMedia's approach is noteworthy in that its Flash-based Glide Effortless software extends point-and-click DRM to Glide Society. Privacy and sharing seem incompatible, but Glide strikes a functional balance by putting the user in control.

Glide isn't for everyone. Highly technical users, many of whom regard any sort of DRM as abhorrent, will likely find living in Glide's protective bubble too limiting. Businesses, however, have a lot to gain from operating in Glide's regulated environment. According to Leka, a growing number of companies will be joining The Orchard as part of the Glide Society, both as E-commerce vendors and business-oriented users. Leka also suggests there will be Internet service providers offering branded versions of the service to subscribers in coming months.

For those who are open to Glide's innovative, if at times vexing, interface and want to publish Web sites and share files online while still maintaining some measure of control, Glide Society represents one of the more civil social networks around.

About the Author(s)

Thomas Claburn

Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful master's degree in film production. He wrote the original treatment for 3DO's Killing Time, a short story that appeared in On Spec, and the screenplay for an independent film called The Hanged Man, which he would later direct. He's the author of a science fiction novel, Reflecting Fires, and a sadly neglected blog, Lot 49. His iPhone game, Blocfall, is available through the iTunes App Store. His wife is a talented jazz singer; he does not sing, which is for the best.

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