Tuesday, December 05, 2006

MySpace Launches Vain Effort To Stop Sickos
[updated 12/8]

How Do We Know This Guy Is For Real??
MySpace Founder? Or Pedophile? How Do We Know For Sure?

MySpace announced today that they will be partnering with a security firm to keep pedophiles off their service.

However, buried in their press release:

"Today’s announcement is a strong step in the right direction, but a gap will still exist in our ability to keep sex offenders off social networking sites until there is legislation that forces sex offenders to use registered email addresses"
MySpace seems to be claiming that forcing sex offenders to register their email addresses will "close the security gap," by allowing MySpace to ban those addresses from registering with the social network.

"With such measures in place, any use of false or unregistered emails would constitute a violation of the offender’s parole or probation and force them back to jail"
Um... I hate to state the obvious, but if a sex offender is contacting underage girls/boys online for sex... THAT is a violation of parole or probation. Obviously, the fear of violating parole isn't stopping these guys. With all the services out there that allow someone to set up as many free email accounts as they want in minutes, there's no way to prevent a sex offender from creating an email address that hasn't been registered. If they're planning on breaking parole anyway, do you think some requirement that they register their email accounts is going to stop them?

It's stupid. It won't work. It's unenforcable.

MySpace claims that by partering with this security firm, they can identify profiles of sex offenders and remove them from the network. But these sex offenders aren't exactly broadcasting their true selves here. Few teenage girls on MySpace are going to communicate with the 45-year-old bald guy who lives with his parents and lists Lolita as his favorite movie. These guys HIDE their identities. And on MySpace, there's still no way to verify if their being truthful or not. Sex offenders are FELONS. They're not going to put their true details out there, rendering MySpace's new partnership useless-- except to catch the only sex offenders stupid enough to put their real selves out there online. (Like Pamela Rogers Turner).

Wired Magazine used a similar screening program to search for sex offenders on the site's profiles. The author of the article confirmed 744 sex offenders with MySpace profiles. That would seem to support the usefulness of MySpace's partnership with the security firm screening their profiles. But even the author of the article admits:

My search left me less convinced that targeting past offenders would be an effective way for MySpace to find current or future predators. By its nature, a search like mine is only going to produce people who use their real names and addresses, and who are perhaps the least likely of the offenders to be up to no good.
Well said. Those planning on breaking the law usually aren't in a rush to reveal themselves.

This guy has 93 friends?? That's more than me!!
This Sicko Wasn't Exactly Fooling Anyone

In fact, MySpace seems to know this already. According to the Wired article, Michael Angus, executive general counsel of Fox Interactive Media, which owns MySpace, told a congressional committee that name-matching against public sex-offender registries wouldn't work. "He also argued that predators could easily use false names," the article states. This seems to go against the claim found in MySpace's current press release, which states, "Through this landmark partnership, MySpace will be able to search existing state and federal databases to identify and delete the profiles of registered sex offenders."

I'd love to call up MySpace and get comment on these two, seemingly contradictory statements, but the last time I contacted MySpace for a story, they strung me along without comment just long enough to get my article scooped by the AP. Bitch.

To me, the answer is simple. MySpace wants its critics to shut up, so they made this partnership, knowing it was useless, just so they'd look good. "Image"--as Andre Agassi used to say--"is everything."

So, Adam, you're such a genius, what will work?

Well, for starters, instead of MySpace selling their adspace to questionable imagery like this...

Scantily Clad
Subliminally driving MySpacers Towards Sexual Relations?

...they can put up something that doesn't smack 14-year-olds in the face with sexually charged ads the second they log in.

What, MySpace couldn't get an ad deal with Hustler?

Replace these ads with warnings. Big bright warnings that remind younger, stupider kids that some people may be older (and sicker) than they appear.

It won't stop pedos from registering, but it just might stop kids from adding them as friends.

Secondly.. and this is a biggie... MySpace needs age verification. MySpace hates this idea, and its understandable. It would cut the number of users by a large number. But such an action would prove that MySpace is committed to protecting minors. An age verification system would work the same way it does for porn sites. A credit card would be required to register. Or they could require a license number. Or, like Facebook (before it sold out and went public) a school, college, or company email address.

Less intrusively, MySpace could force users to know the last names or email addresses of the person they try to contact, before that contact can be established. They already have a similar "opt in" system like this in place, but it doesn't go far enough. They should automatically make profiles of those under 18 invisible to older users, unless that older user is a friend, or unless that older user knows the other user's last name.

How about an outside-the-box idea? MySpace can require younger users to also enter the email of a parent or guardian when they register. That way, periodically, the parent will receive an email from MySpace showing who their child has been communicating with (though, for the child's privacy, not what was said). This way, parents can ask, "Who's this PedoGuy69 you've been talking to?"

Of course, that raises another point. Which is: it's not completely MySpace's responsibility. While MySpace must make reasonable efforts, nearly every solution available to them still has many loopholes present. It's up to parents to monitor their kid's computer use. It's also up to parents to be involved with their kid's lives. I've heard many stories about kids "dating" people online and their parents never knowing about it. If you have a good relationship with your kid, this shouldn't ever happen.

But MySpace must produce more than these vain, questionably effective efforts if we're meant to view their anti-pedo stance as anything more than good public relations. They must start with the assumption that most people lie online, and then proceed from there.

And, for that matter, so should we.

Adam is a muscular, 21-year-old super-spy living in Iceland with his pet Yak, Noodles.

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