MySpace, pols work to make sites safer

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NEW YORK -- MySpace and attorneys general from 49 states announced Monday a set of principles and the formation of a task force aiming to keep social networking sites safe from sexual predators.

The agreement, which both parties called "remarkable" and "landmark" during a news conference at the Sheraton in midtown Manhattan, comes after nearly two years of talks between News Corp.'s MySpace and law enforcement agencies led by North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper and his Connecticut counterpart, Dick Blumenthal. Both groups are looking to these guidelines, many of which already are in practice, to serve as a template for other social networking sites, most notably Facebook.

The main initiatives center on keeping social networking users under age 18 from receiving unwanted contact from users over that age. To that end, MySpace has enacted a 14-year-old age requirement, will make the profiles of all users under age 18 automatically private and is encouraging parents to sign up the e-mail addresses of their children to a database that can ban them from the site.

A major disagreement, though, centers on whether there is current age-verification technology available that can stop an adult user from signing up as a child. MySpace chief security officer Hemanshu Nigam said his company "has not a found a product that can do that," an assertion that the attorneys general disagree with.

The point of the task force, both parties said, is to figure this point out over the year with the help of other tech and social networking companies.

A Facebook spokeswoman said her company already has been working to make it safe from online predators and that they "are happy to work further with the states to develop and deploy strategies to protect kids online."
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