|MySpace.com Moves to Keep Sex Offenders Off of Its Site|
SAN FRANCISCO, Dec. 5 — My Space.com, the social networking site, said Tuesday that it was developing technologies that would help combat the use of its site by sexual predators by cross-referencing its more than 130 million users against state databases of registered sex offenders.
The Web site, which is owned by the News Corporation, said that within 30 days it planned to deploy the technology, which will seek to identify known sex offenders not just by their names, but also by date of birth, height, weight and ZIP code.
If the automated system finds a potential match between a MySpace user and a registered sex offender, employees will try to verify the match or determine if it is a false positive. Users who are registered sex offenders, MySpace said, will be denied access to the site and, depending in the circumstances, be turned over to law enforcement.
The system, which MySpace executives said was the first of its kind, comes as the site has faced scrutiny and criticism by advocates of children’s safety. Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, said the technology was a potentially useful step in slowing the incidence of sexual solicitation of minors.
“It’s not a panacea, but it makes a whole lot of sense,” Mr. Allen said.
According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, a nonprofit group, one in seven regular Internet users between the ages of 10 and 17 will be solicited online for sex. That figure has fallen from 2000, when it was one in five.
The perception, particularly among parents, has been that children are vulnerable on social networking sites like MySpace.com, which allow users to create profiles, share their interests and create a vast social network.
MySpace said that more than 80 percent of its users were 18 years or older.
In its announcement, MySpace said it had signed a deal to use technology created by the Sentinel Tech Holdings Corporation.
Forty-six states have public data bases that include 550,000 registered sex offenders. The technology will compare the names on the databases with the 135 million MySpace users.
Hemanshu Nigam, chief security officer for MySpace, said the company hoped the technology would work in real time, meaning that as people signed up — which they are doing at a rate of 320,000 a day — the system would automatically compare the names to the databases.
The system, by MySpace’s admission, is not fool-proof. If registered sex offenders sign up but do not give their real names, physical attributes, locations or post their real picture, they could elude detection.
Similarly, there is a chance that people who are not sex offenders might be flagged by the system. Mr. Nigam said a team was in place to analyze potential matches and throw out false positives.
Kevin Bankston, a staff lawyer for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a free speech and consumer advocacy group, said the technology was a response to growing worries about the extent of the problem of sexual solicitation of minors on the Internet.
Mr. Bankston said the incidents of such solicitation were falling but that fear was causing companies to take steps that could ultimately impinge civil liberties.
“My concern is MySpace is acting based on a level of pressure and fear that may be unreasonable,” he said. -nytimes