On Jan 14, 2008, state Attorneys General (AGs) from every state except Texas announced that MySpace agreed to undertake new measures aimed at improving the Internet safety of minors who use its services, as well as create an industry task force to explore online safety tools for social networking sites.1 This agreement is captured in a “Joint Statement on Key Principles of Social Networking Safety” which focuses on the following four key areas: (1) online safety tools; (2) design and functionality changes; (3) education and tools for parents, educators, and children; and (4) law enforcement cooperation.
Companies offering or contemplating offering social networking functionalities or similar interactive features, particularly those aimed at younger users, should review these principles carefully. State AGs have actively begun encouraging other businesses to adhere to these new principles, and these principles have the potential to become a best practices model.
Among the specific measures that MySpace will undertake to implement these principles are:
- Prohibiting children under the age of 14 from creating a MySpace profile page;
- Strengthening the algorithm that identifies underage users;
- Prohibiting users of any age from browsing for other users under the age of 16;
- Making the default settings for 16 and 17 year olds “private” and creating a creating a closed section called “high school” for users;
- Making it harder for adults to contact children on the site;
- Exploring the possibility of allowing parents to submit their children’s e-mail addresses to MySpace to enable the site to prevent anyone from using it;
- Responding within 72 hours to inappropriate content complaints; and
- Obtaining a list of adult sites on an ongoing basis and severing links to those sites f rom MySpace.
Online Safety Tools/ Internet Safety Task/ Age Verification
Toward the deployment of effective online safety tools, MySpace has agreed to create and lead an Internet Safety Technical Task Force to explore and develop age and identity verification tools for social networking sites. This task force will include Internet businesses, identity authentication experts, non-profit organizations, and technology companies. The Task Force must provide the Executive Committee of the Attorneys General Social Networking Working Group with reports of its efforts every three months and a formal report with recommendations by the end of 2008.
It is important to note that this agreement did not include age verification mandates, which some AGs have been strongly advocating over the past two years given their belief that technologies exist today that would allow social networking sites to verify age. Rather, it included a study of methods and tools that could be used for age verification.
Creation of an E-mail Registry
Also of note under the agreement was MySpace’s commitment to engage a third party to explore establishing a children’s e-mail registry where parents could add e-mail addresses of their children under the age of 18 to prevent them from registering for membership on MySpace or other social networking websites that use the registry.
This type of proposal implicates similar security, privacy, and authentication challenges raised in connection with the Utah Child Protection Registry, which Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff believes can serve as a model for preventing children from seeing inappropriate online advertising.2 A notable difference between the Utah registry and this provision of the agreement is that under the Utah law, advertisers are prohibited from sending inappropriate material to minors whose contact points are on the registry, where MySpace or other social networking sites would be prohibited from allowing children to register for site membership.
The full text of the MySpace agreement with the attorneys general is available at http://www.mass.gov/Cago/docs/press/2008_01_14_myspace_agreement_attachment1.pdf