MySpace Developing Parent-Notification Tool - InformationWeek

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MySpace Developing Parent-Notification Tool

Quelling concerns over online predators, the popular social network will also check your age at the door.

Parents of teenagers breathed a sigh of relief Wednesday as social network site MySpace confirmed that it's developing parent-notification and age-verification software.

The latter is important because 14- and 15-year-olds using the site now are placed in a separate area where older strangers cannot contact them. MySpace, which was bought by News Corp. in 2005, does not allow people under 14 to join, although there's nothing preventing children from lying about their ages when registering.

The new desktop software, code-named "Zephyr," was first reported Wednesday by The Wall Street Journal. In developing the tool, MySpace is trying to appease critics that say it hasn't done enough to verify ages of members and to protect minors against sexual predators.

Police reports across the U.S. cite dozens of cases where MySpace teens have been molested, and some murdered, by people who first contact them through the site, the Journal said. A group of 33 state attorneys general are now considering legal action if MySpace doesn't increase its age limit to 16, and find a way to verify ages. The site claims technology doesn't exist to make that possible.

In a statement sent by e-mail Wednesday, Hemanshu Nigam, chief security officer for MySpace, said the site was trying to walk a fine line between giving parents more control, and protecting the privacy of its members.

"Our goal is to empower parents to engage in conversation with their teens about Internet safety and this software tool is another step in our continued commitment to developing safety and security programs for our community," Nigam said. "We believe that parents are the first line of defense when it comes to protecting teens in the offline and online worlds, and they should have as many tools as possible to safeguard their families."

Teens whose parents use the tool to determine whether they have a profile and are using their correct age would be notified upon login that their parents would be provided with publicly available information from the teens' profiles.

For News Corp., the stakes are high in addressing security concerns. MySpace has grown over the last two years to 73.8 million monthly users in the United States, according to ComScore Networks. Because of its popularity, the site presents a huge potential market for advertisers.

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