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MySpace Harbored Nearly 100,000 Sex Offenders

Connecticut AG says social networking sites need to do more to stop online predators.

K.C. Jones

February 4, 2009

4 Min Read

MySpace had 90,000 registered sex offenders on its site, or 40,000 more than originally reported, but the company disputes a state prosecutor's claims that the figures reveal shortcomings.

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal recently issued a subpoena requesting the names of people who have been blocked from the site. He sent a similar request to Facebook, which hasn't yet responded.

"This shocking revelation -- resulting from our subpoena -- provides compelling proof that social networking sites remain rife with sexual predators," Blumenthal said in a statement released Tuesday. "Nearly 100,000 convicted sex offenders with MySpace profiles powerfully refutes the recent task force report -- based on outdated and incomplete data -- falsely downplaying the threat of predators on social networking sites."

MySpace chief security officer Hemanshu Nigam claimed that the site is more vigilant than competitors about removing offenders.

"As the first and only social networking site to use state of the art technology to identify and remove registered sex offenders from its site, MySpace is proud of its leadership position and hopes that Facebook follows our lead in providing their members with the same protections," Nigam said Wednesday in an e-mailed statement. "As part of our long-standing partnership with law enforcement and state Attorneys Generals, we will continue to readily provide information on these removed offenders for their investigations."

A spokesperson for the company also said that no sex offenders have ever been convicted for activity on the site and that the track record reflects MySpace's success in weeding out predators.

Facebook chief privacy officer Chris Kelly insisted that no predators have ever met a minor through his company's social networking site and added that Facebook is working hard to make sure that never happens. He said the company is working proactively with prosecutors to block registered sex offenders and notify law enforcement for follow-up.

"Protecting our users, especially the many children who use our site has always been a top priority for Facebook," Kelly said in an e-mailed statement Wednesday. "We have devoted significant resources to developing innovative and complex systems to proactively monitor the site and its users, including those not on a sex offender registry, for suspicious activity (such as contacting minors or users of predominantly one gender). We also have established a large team of professional investigators to evaluate any reports of potential abuse, including those surfaced by our systems or from our users."

Kelly also said that, for three years, Facebook has worked with Blumenthal's office, which recently announced that it would send an updated subpoena.

Blumenthal and North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper co-chair a national task force on social networking safety and risks. "Technology should play a role in keeping children safe on the Internet, and social networking sites must put better safety tools in place to keep predators away from kids," Cooper said.

Blumenthal called the situation "appalling and totally unacceptable."

"For every one of them, there may be hundreds of others using false names and ages," he said. "These convicted registered sex offenders creating profiles under their own names unmasks MySpace's monstrously inadequate countermeasures. MySpace must purge these dangerous offenders now -- and rid them for good. Social networking sites must be barred as playgrounds for predators -- a very real threat exposed by the response to our subpoena."

Blumenthal said he plans to identify all Connecticut offenders with MySpace profiles and work with state authorities to determine whether the offenders violated probation or terms of release. He urged other states to follow suit. He is pushing social networking sites to require age and identification verification.

"Law enforcement officials know the reality: children are solicited every day on line," Blumenthal said. "All too often, they fall prey. Technology companies and social networking sites must do more -- and do it now. Blaming the victim is appalling and outrageous."

Blumenthal said that recent reports indicate substantial numbers of convicted offenders with profiles on Facebook and his office is awaiting a response from the company.

MySpace announced a deal last year with top prosecutors from 49 states to scour its membership for known sex offenders and child predators. The company developed its own combined database of over 700,000 offenders from throughout the United States and software, called Sentinel Safe, to search for identifying information and matches. For example, the software searches for dates of birth and e-mail accounts that have been registered with the National Sex Offender Registry and individual states.

The National Sex Offender Registry contains e-mail addresses and IM accounts, which the Kids Act of 2007 requires sex offenders to provide.

Note: This story was updated @ 2:06 pm.

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