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MySpace internet safety initiative meaningless says CYBERsitter CEO

Rachel Hawkes (Social Media Portal) - 17 January 2008

On 14 January 2008, social networking site MySpace announced a joint effort with 49 US Attorneys General to make the internet safer for young people.

With the initiative, MySpace are setting up an Internet Safety Technical Task Force and also introducing more stringent means to verify users real ages - blocking access to the site for users under the age of 14.  Solid Oak Software is the publisher of CYBERsitter, an internet filtering program and its CEO and founder Brian Milburn says that, "The whole agreement (between MySpace and the Attorneys General) is smoke and mirrors.  We have been involved in Internet content management for kids since the Internet as we know it began."

In November 2007, Solid Oak released a new version of their CYBERsitter software which includes patent-pending technology that sends a digital token containing age-identification information to the (social networking) site when a user logs on.  This 'digital token' then allows the host website to modify the content that user sees based on the information received on the users age.  According to Milburn, there are already many users sending this digital token to MySpace and other social networking sites - which is being ignored.

Milburn says that when contacted by Solid Oak, MySpace were simply not interested in learning more about how they could implement CYBERsitter to better protect their young members.  "We attempted to contact MySpace and several other social networking providers to let them know about our new technology without success.  There are currently thousands of CYBERsitter users who are already sending age-restricted tokens to MySpace. MySpace could implement support for this today if they wanted to.  I can only conclude that this new agreement is simply lip service to make the controversy go away.”

The Internet Safety Technical Task Force (Task Force) that MySpace are putting together will include other online business, identity authentication experts, non-profit organisations and technology companies.  The Task Force will commit itself to developing online safety tools, and ensure that all efforts are taken to accurately identify people using social networking sites.

As part of the initiative, MySpace's parent company News Corporation have dedicated a senior executive whose job it will be to work solely on the Task Force and liaise with the Attorneys General.

Milburn believes that universal age verification is virtually impossible. He says MySpace must honor the wishes of parents, “We know for a fact that parents want to participate in making the Internet a safe place for their kids. MySpace is ignoring the first and best line of defense -- the parent. If MySpace won’t work with parents to provide some degree of control based on the parents' wishes, any so-called agreement is basically meaningless.”

Solid Oak plans to offer a free age-identification tool for parents if MySpace or any other online community site will support it. 

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