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Warnings of legal action halt tracking sites

MySpace moves to protect users – and servers

Two entrepreneurs who created code to track the relationship status of MySpace.com users face legal action, the social networking website's lawyers have warned.

The site SingleStat.us was active for only 10 days before a cease-and-desist letter from MySpace caused its creator, David Weekly, to shut down the site. SingleStat charged a small fee to be notified by email when the status of a MySpace user changed, from 'in a relationship' to 'single', for example.

In a letter dated 15 June, MySpace cited several violations of its user policy, including a ban on the commercial use of information about its users. Weekly's automated script program, which allowed for the notifications, also put "an undue burden on the MySpace servers", according to a copy of the letter posted here.

MySpace officials reached in London this morning could not immediately comment.

SingleStat burned briefly but brightly, an example of the agility of creative coders who use popular ideas as a springboard and add new functions, often faster than large companies. Two days after SingleStat had launched, Weekly wrote, close to 10,000 people had visited the site, and 65 blog posts were written about it in six languages.

MySpace was purchased last year by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation for $580m (about £315m) and has a growing base of at least 73 million users. It allows users to create a simple page, post photos and music, and build contact lists based on friends of friends.

Just a day after SingleStat was launched, Weekly said the newspaper USA Today linked to it in its online blog, and a venture capital firm came calling.

Yesterday, a website with similar functions was also shut down after a warning from MySpace. Jared Chandler, who started DatingAnyone.com in April, said MySpace further requested that he not release the source code for the project.

MySpace bared its teeth in Chandler's letter, writing that the site violated California laws against hacking and federal trademark laws.

"I have no doubt that it provided a real service to its users, and it's unfortunate that there is no avenue for outside improvement of MySpace," Chandler wrote.

The operator of a third search site, Stalkerati.com, wrote that MySpace appears to have added a script to prevent searches, but he is working on a way to get around it.

Jared Kim runs Stalkerati.com, which is still in beta and consolidates what would be separate searches for personal information at sites such as Google, Google's image search, Friendster, Facebook and the blog-hunting site Technorati. Kim's site allows searches of all in one box.

Kim wrote that he created the code for Stalkerati in about two hours in May when a friend wanted to research a blind date and his sister was asked out via email "by a guy that Googled her".

"I hope to eliminate the hassle of going to four to five sites to find information/check out/cyberstalk (insert excuse for cyberstalking here) on someone," Kim wrote.


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