WISCONSINREPORT.COM (01/16/08) - In a victory for social networking safety, Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen joined attorneys general from 48 other states and the District of Columbia to announce that MySpace has agreed to significant steps to better protect children using its web site. The agreement includes the creation of a broad-based task force to explore and develop age and identity verification technology. In the agreement, the Attorneys General commend MySpace for its efforts to address social networking safety issues.
"On-line sexual predators use social networking sites to commit crimes against children," Van Hollen said. "The intent of this agreement is to make MySpace safer for children, and help parents protect their children. MySpace is one of a number of very popular social networking sites, and I hope other social networking sites will follow our lead and work towards increasing their users' safety."
MySpace acknowledged in the agreement the important role of this technology in social networking safety and agreed to find and develop on-line identity authentication tools. The Attorneys General advocate age and identity verification, calling it an important tool to protect children using social networking sites from on-line sexual predators and inappropriate material.
Other specific changes and policies that MySpace agreed to develop include: allowing parents to submit their children's email addresses so MySpace can prevent anyone using those email addresses from setting up profiles, making the default setting "private" for profiles of 16 and 17 year-olds, promising to respond within 72 hours to inappropriate content complaints and committing more staff and/or resources to review and classify photographs and discussion groups.
The agreement culminates nearly two years of discussions between MySpace and the state Attorneys General. The Attorneys General were led by North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper and Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, co-chairmen of executive committee consisting of Connecticut, North Carolina, Georgia, Idaho, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and the District of Columbia.
"Although this is an important agreement and one that I am proud to support, it does not replace the need for parents to parent," Van Hollen continued. "The safest way to keep your children safe online is by talking to your children and keeping computers in common areas. Better online safety policies, software programs, and increased responsiveness from social networking sites will certainly help, but active parenting remains the most important Internet safety tool."
Under the agreement, MySpace, with support from the attorneys general, will create and lead an Internet Safety Technical Task Force to explore and develop age and identity verification tools for social networking web sites. MySpace will invite other social networking sites, age and identify verification experts, child protection groups and technology companies to participate in the task force.
The task force will report back to the Attorneys General every three months and issue a formal report with findings and recommendations at the end of 2008.
MySpace also will hire a contractor to compile a registry of email addresses provided by parents who want to restrict their child's access to the site. MySpace will bar anyone using a submitted email address from signing in or creating a profile.
MySpace also agreed to work to implement the following:
- Strengthen software identifying underage users;
- Retain a contractor to better identify and expunge inappropriate images;
- Obtain and constantly update a list of pornographic web sites and regularly sever any links between them and MySpace;
- Implement changes making it harder for adults to contact children;
- Dedicate meaningful resources to educating children and parents about on-line safety;
- Provide a way to report abuse on every page that contains content, consider adopting a common mechanism to report abuse, and respond quickly to abuse reports;
- Create a closed "high school" section for users under 18.
The Joint Statement on Key Principles of Social Networking Safety recognizes that an ongoing industry effort is required to keep pace with the latest technological developments and develop additional ways to protect teens, including online identity authentication tools. The Principles of Social Networking fall into four categories:
Online Safety Task Force: As part of the Principles, MySpace will organize, with support of the Attorneys General, an industry-wide Internet Safety Technical Task Force to develop online safety tools, including a review of identity authentication tools. The Task Force will include Internet businesses, identity authentication experts, non-profit organizations, academics and technology companies.
Site Design and Functionality: The Principles incorporate safety initiatives that MySpace has already implemented (Appendix A attached) and initiatives it will work to implement over in the coming months (Appendix B attached). Examples of safety features MySpace has in place include reviewing every image and video uploaded to the site, reviewing groups, making the profiles of 14 and 15 year-old users automatically private and helping to protect them from being contacted by adults that they don't already know in the offline world, and deleting registered sex offenders from MySpace.
MySpace has also agreed to consider a common abuse reporting mechanism and has agreed to provide a means to report abuse on every content containing page, also allowing users to easily categorize the type of offensive content at issue via a drop-down menu. MySpace will try to acknowledge reports made via the Report Abuse mechanism within 24 hours and will report back to consumers within 72 hours of receiving complaints
Education and Tools for Parents, Educators and Children: The Principles acknowledge that MySpace has already been devoting meaningful resources to Internet safety education including a new online safety public service announcement targeted at parents and free parental monitoring software that is under development.
MySpace will explore the establishment of a children's email registry that will empower parents to prevent their children from having access to MySpace or other any other social networking sites. In addition, under the Principles MySpace will increase its communications with consumers who report or complain about inappropriate content or activity on the site.
The parties will continue to work together to enhance the ability of law enforcement officials to investigate and prosecute Internet crimes.