MySpace, States Agree To Child Safeguards

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The MySpace social networking Web site has reached an agreement with more than 45 U.S. states to make changes to help prevent sexual predators and others from misusing it, state officials said Monday.

Several states' attorneys general said in a statement that MySpace has agreed to add several protections and participate in a working group to develop new technologies, including a way to verify the ages of users. Other social networking sites will be invited to participate.

MySpace, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., will also accept independent monitoring and change the structure of its site.

The agreement was announced in Manhattan by attorneys general from New Jersey, North Carolina, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York.

"The Internet can be a dangerous place for children and young adults, with sexual predators surfing social networking sites in search of potential victims and cyber bullies sending threatening and anonymous messages," said New Jersey Attorney General Anne Milgram.

Legal authorities have long been seeking greater controls for networking sites to prevent predators from using them to contact children.

"We thank the attorneys general for a thoughtful and constructive conversation on Internet safety," MySpace Chief Security Officer Hemanshu Nigam said in a written statement. "This is an industrywide challenge, and we must all work together to create a safer Internet."

He said the agreement includes measures "to provide a safer online experience for teens, and we look forward to sharing our ongoing safety innovations with other companies."

Among other measures, MySpace agreed to:

  • Allow parents to submit children's e-mail addresses to MySpace to prevent anyone from misusing the addresses to set up profiles.
  • Make the default setting "private" for 16- and 17-year-old users.
  • Respond within 72 hours to complaints about inappropriate content and devote more staff and resources to classify photographs and discussion groups.
  • Strengthen software to find underage users.
  • Create a high school section for users under 18 years old.
"I'm thrilled to see MySpace is stepping up to Internet security in a serious way," Internet safety advocate and Information Week columnist Parry Aftab told CBS News. "I think that this is a good step forward."

Investigators have increasingly examined MySpace, and other sites where people post information and images and invite contact from other people.

New York investigators said they set up Facebook profiles last year as 12- to 14-year olds and were quickly contacted by other users looking for sex.

The multistate investigation of the sites - announced last year - was aimed at putting together measures to protect minors and remove pornographic material, but lawsuits were possible, officials said.