Attorney General Martha Coakley and 49 Other Attorneys General Reach Agreement with MySpace to Boost

BOSTON – In a victory for social networking safety, Attorney General Martha Coakley’s Office and 49 other attorneys general reached an agreement with MySpace to better protect children on its Web site, including the 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 develop on-line identity authentication tools. The 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.
“We are especially pleased that MySpace has agreed to new design changes, for which Massachusetts fought so hard,” said Attorney General Coakley. “We are hopeful that by implementing this agreement, children will be safe from predators active on MySpace; and we hope to see technology like this implemented on all social networking sites.”
Other specific changes and policies that MySpace agreed to develop include: allowing parents to submit their children’s E-mail addresses so MySpace can prevent anyone using those 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 additional staff and/or resources to review and classify photographs and discussion groups.
The agreement culminates nearly two years of discussions between MySpace and a group of attorneys general. The attorneys general were led by an executive committee consisting of Massachusetts and the states of Connecticut, Georgia, Idaho, Mississippi, New Hampshire, North Carolina, 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 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 E-mail addresses provided by parents who want to restrict their child’s access to the site. MySpace will bar anyone using a submitted E-mail address from signing in or creating a profile.

MySpace also agreed to:

  • 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 online 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 agreement entered into today includes a joint statement on key principles of social networking, and establishes principles of social networking. 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. The principles of social networking fall into four categories:

  • Site Design and Functionality. The principles incorporate safety initiatives that MySpace has already implemented and initiatives it will work to implement in the coming months . 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 E-mail registry that will empower parents to prevent their children from having access to MySpace or 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.
  • 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.

Since taking office in January 2007, Attorney General Coakley has made Internet safety, particularly for children and young adults, a priority of her administration. In addition to the attorney general’s office’s involvement in discussions with MySpace, Attorney General Coakley also established a dedicated cyber crime division within the office’s criminal bureau to lead the attorney general’s cyber crime initiative. Last fall, Attorney General Coakley unveiled “The Massachusetts Strategic Plan for Cyber Crime,” designed to help the commonwealth develop a statewide capacity to prevent, investigate, and prosecute cyber crime. The plan calls for law enforcement training, enhanced information sharing, the development of common operating procedures and standards, funding for cyber crime programs, and amending current law as it pertains to cyber crime. In October 2007, the attorney general’s office partnered with the Microsoft Corporation to offer a day-long cyber crime training seminar for law enforcement officers from across the state.

Assistant Attorney General Scott Schafer of Attorney General Coakley’s consumer protection division represented the commonwealth on this matter, with the assistance of Erik Funk of Attorney General Coakley’s investigations division. AAG Schafer was primarily responsible for the design change implemented in the agreement.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________ Attorney General Jan. 14 press release

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