Is “MySpace.com” A Safe Place
I had a disturbing conversation this week with
several teenaged and pre-teen children regarding “MySpace.com,”
an online social networking place for teens and young adults.
The site is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp. Site users
create personal profiles that can include photos and personal
information such as likes and dislikes, where the person goes
to school, and cell phone numbers. Press reports say the site
has more than 50 million members.
My concern arose when the teenagers and pre-teens
expressed little or no concern about the privacy of the information
they were posting. They viewed the site as a great way to talk
to current friends and to find new friends. They were certainly
unaware—and frankly did not care—that according to
company policy, much of what gets posted to MySpace.com becomes
the company’s property and can be sold to other companies
and advertisers. They also had not thought about criminals reading
their personal information.
Are my privacy concerns overblown? The Wisconsin
Bureau of Consumer Protection has received no complaints against
the site regarding the use of information for advertising purposes.
However, more disturbing are the potential uses of the site for
criminal purposes. In February, Connecticut Attorney General Richard
Blumenthal announced he is investigating whether criminal charges
can be brought against NewsCorp because up to seven teenage girls
may have been sexually assaulted by adult men they met through
“I am shocked and dismayed that the operators
of MySpace.com fail to shield minors from pornographic images
and that the web site may have been used by sexual predators targeting
minors,” said Blumenthal. “As a parent, I find it
appalling and abhorrent that a web site would so poorly police
its pages. This site is a parent’s worst nightmare.”
The U.S. attorney in Connecticut has also brought
charges against two men who used MySpace.com to set up sexual
encounters with underage teenage girls.
NewsCorp appears to be at least partially responding
to privacy concerns. A company spokesperson stated in news reports
that MySpace prohibits children under age 14 from using the site.
The company uses software designed to identify minors, flagging
profiles with terms likely to be used by children under age 14.
The company also restricts access to the profiles of 14- and 15-year-olds,
allowing them to be contacted only by users that they add to their
Despite these protections, I urge you to be
fully aware of what your children or grandchildren are doing online.
The children I spoke to this past weekend innocently think putting
personal information online is harmless, but unfortunately the
facts are demonstrating otherwise.