Children's safety on MySpace looks set to improve following a set of principles drawn up between MySpace and most US state attorneys general which will boost the ability of police to catch and prosecute sexual predators who use the web.
It is hoped that the set of principles for social-networking safety, which were announced on Monday, will be broadly adopted by companies that operate these sites. The announcement comes at a time when MySpace and social-networking sites in general are being closely monitored and sometimes sharply criticised by law enforcement agencies worldwide, which say they aren't doing enough to protect minors on their sites.
Among the goals in the Joint Statement on Key Principles of Social Networking Sites Safety, is the development of a truly effective tool that social-networking sites can use to verify the age of members and potential members.
As part of the agreement, MySpace has pledged to develop a registry that parents could submit their children's email addresses to have them barred from social-networking sites. MySpace will also make profiles of members under 18 years of age private by default and make it harder for adults to contact children via the site. The minimum age to have a MySpace profile is 14 years old.
In conjunction with the participating state attorneys general, MySpace has also committed to organising an industry-wide Internet Safety Technical Task Force. MySpace will also improve its tools and methods to identify and delete inappropriate images, obtain and constantly update a list of pornographic websites and break links between them and its site.
"The joint statement is the result of two years of ongoing discussions between the attorneys general and MySpace," said North Carolina attorney general Roy Cooper and Connecticut attorney general Richard Blumenthal.
Calling the agreement "remarkable" and vowing that it will set "a new standard" for protecting minors online, Cooper said: "It's crucial for other social-networking sites like Facebook to support this effort. I urge others to follow MySpace's lead to participate in the task force and adopt the safety principles in this agreement."
Blumenthal predicted that the task force will begin generating concrete results in months, not years, and stressed that the attorneys general believe that it's key for the safety of minors to have effective age-verification tools and methods.
"This way, children who aren't old enough to join a social network will be prevented from doing so, and teens under 18 years of age will get special protection," he said.
The attorneys general participating in the call, which also included those from Ohio and Pennsylvania, agreed that parents must also get involved in this effort.
"MySpace was happy to engage in these discussions with the attorneys general," said MySpace chief security Officer Hemanshu Nigam, adding that he hopes others in the industry will join the effort.
"We have always believed that it takes a partnership of parents, law enforcement and educators to make progress towards a safer online community. Only by working together can we fully succeed in increasing internet safety for all of our members, and for all other social-networking users," said Hemanshu, who is also CSO for Fox Interactive Media, the News Corp division that houses MySpace.
Absent from the list of state attorneys general was Greg Abbott from Texas, who takes issue with several points included in the agreement with MySpace. In a letter sent on Monday to MySpace CEO Chris DeWolfe, Abbott characterised the joint statement's measures as 'remedial' and as a 'starting point rather than a point of conclusion.'
"The protective steps memorialised in the joint statement improve online safety and security, but still fail to adequately protect child users," Abbott wrote in the letter.
"Adding his signature to the joint statement could be misinterpreted as an endorsement of the inadequate safety measures contained therein," Abbott wrote, stressing that a major gap is the absence of an effective age-verification system.
Abbott also criticised the statement for being vague, especially about the specific steps MySpace must implement 'to promote and facilitate' cooperation with law enforcement agencies.