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MySpace Safety Efforts May Backfire

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For someone who isn’t 17, I have to admit that I spend a fair amount of time digging around in MySpace and trying to understand how all the pieces fit together. Indeed, MySpace help is an an important element of my tech Q&A blog too (where I offer tech support and, specifically myspace help). Heck, I even have a popular myspace ebook entitled Dave’s Everything Guide to MySpace.

That’s why I read through the announcement today on the AP wire that MySpace agrees to step up measures against child predators with a skeptical eye… and I was right.

Among the measures proposed, MySpace has agreed to a couple that I just know are going to backfire!

Allow parents to submit children’s e-mail addresss to prevent anyone from misuing those addresses to set up profiles – But how do you prove that someone is a parent? And the parent of that particular child? I mean, if I just say "oh yeah, my son’s email address is ‘soccerGuy@hotmail.com’ are they going to take my word for it, while I snicker about how I just blocked my enemy in math class from ever getting his MySpace account setup?

One possibility would be to fax in credentials, but that’s just as open to spoofing. It’s a very tricky problem, actually, and one that I imagine will be exploited with all sorts of social engineering hacks and related.

Make the default settings "private" for 16 and 17yo users – well, duh, MySpace. Anyone under 18 should, by default, have a private account. Why has it taken this long to propose this change? Of course, it’s pretty darn easy for an individual to make their account public, but that’s alright, at least they have to do something (until a comment-based virus is written that auto-public’s people’s profiles without them knowing, but that’s another story)

Strengthen software to find underage users – this is bizarre. Why bother with this when I think just about every parent and law enforcement officer in the galaxy would rather see them commit to strengthening software to find under-18 accounts from people who are over 18?? That’s the core of the problem, in my opinion, not younger adults pretending to be a bit older.

Y’know, more than just about any other site I visit, MySpace still feels like the lawless Wild West of the earlier Internet days. In addition to these inane and empty promises to make a better, safer MySpace, I’d like to see MySpace Chief Security Officer Hemanshu Nigam explain how the company is going to tighten up the overall environment so that there are less spam profiles, less spam comments and less spam email sent to legitimate MySpace users. Without these filters, I believe it’s only a matter of time before people migrate to cleaner, less noisy and chaotic environments.

Meanwhile, my reportcard for today’s announcement: A good effort, but the proof is in the implementation, and without addressing other fundamental problems within the MySpace world, the company will not being able to retain its "busiest site on the Web" distinction for long.

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MySpace Safety Efforts May Backfire
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