MySpace Defends Search Technology For Sexual Predators - InformationWeek
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MySpace Defends Search Technology For Sexual Predators

Other sites should follow our lead, says MySpace security chief. is doing all it can to minimize criticism that its popular social network is a haven for sexual predators. Last week, the site reacted to the revelation that it had grossly underreported the number of registered sex offenders signed up for its service by touting its use of a real-time search capability it developed with an online identification provider.

''Follow our lead,'' says MySpace's Nigam -- Photo by Damian Dovarganes/AP

"Follow our lead," says MySpace's Nigam

Photo by Damian Dovarganes/AP
In May, attorneys general from Connecticut, Georgia, Idaho, Mississippi, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, and Pennsylvania teamed up to demand information from MySpace about its success in finding registered offenders. Soon after, MySpace announced that it had deleted profiles of 7,000 offenders. However, last week North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper and Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said more subpoenaed information revealed that MySpace had identified an additional 29,000 profiles matching data in its search of databases of registered sex offenders.

MySpace pointed to its partnership with Sentinel Tech Holdings that allowed it to remove the offenders from its site. "Through this innovative technology, we're pleased that we've successfully identified and deleted these registered sex offenders and hope that other social networking sites follow our lead," Hemanshu Nigam, chief security officer for MySpace, said in a statement.

The politicians weren't mollified. The new figure "screams for action," said Blumenthal.

A Significant Step
MySpace said in December that it was working with Sentinel Tech, an online verification service, to develop a means of ferreting out registered sex offenders who use the site. The system, called Sentinel Safe, would allow MySpace to comb Sentinel's collection of publicly available records. "Sentinel Safe will allow us to aggregate all publicly available sex offender databases into a real-time, searchable form, making it easy to cross-reference and remove known registered sex offenders from the MySpace community," Nigam said in a statement at the time. "The creation of this first-of-a-kind real-time, searchable database technology is a significant step to keep our members as safe as possible." MySpace hired Nigam a year ago from Microsoft, where he was the director of consumer security outreach and child-safe computing, to help counter mounting fears consumers have about sexual predation within its social network.

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Critics wondered about the discrepancy between MySpace's original report of 7,000 sexual predators and the 29,000 it reported only two months later. North Carolina's Cooper pointed out that the 29,000 figure represents only the offenders who used their real names to sign up. MySpace has about 180 million registered profiles on its site. MySpace executives declined to be interviewed.

"These numbers dispel any doubt that age verification and other reforms are overdue and undeniable," said Connecticut's Blumenthal. "Steadfast opposition by MySpace to age verification and parental permission for minors has no shred of credibility."

Cooper is proposing a state law that would require parental approval before kids could sign up on social networking sites. "This proposal requires that these Web sites get a parent's OK before children under 18 join and post personal information, and give parents the chance to see what their children post," he said. A Clayton, N.C., mother was unable to get MySpace to delete profiles of several of her daughter's classmates who are under 14, Cooper said.

For its part, MySpace is backing legislation that would force predators to register their e-mail addresses so Internet companies can more easily identify them.

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