In a victory for social networking safety, Attorney General Baker and 48 other states as well as the District of Columbia announced today that MySpace has agreed to significant steps to better protect children on its web site, including creation of a broad-based task force to explore and develop age and identity verification technology.
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 nation’s attorneys general advocate age and identity verification, calling it vital to better protecting 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 attorneys general. The attorneys general were led by a twelve person executive committee, including Georgia Attorney General Thurbert Baker and the attorneys general from North Carolina, Connecticut, Idaho, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and the District of Columbia.
The states pushed MySpace for changes after sexual predators repeatedly used the site to victimize children. 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 identity 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 calendar year 2008.
“This agreement will go a long way towards protecting the safety of our children who use and enjoy the benefits of these social networking sites. Many of the steps in today’s agreement are items that I have been pushing for years, and I am pleased that MySpace will join with my office and law enforcement here in Georgia to work to make certain that these social networking sites are safe areas for children to interact with each other.”
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.
- Law Enforcement Cooperation. The parties will continue to work together to enhance the ability of law enforcement officials to investigate and prosecute Internet crimes.