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Protection or Profit?

Last week, a private investigator fingered MySpace for hosting “thousands” of registered sex offenders, citing as evidence a guy so stupid as to use his own mug shot as his MySpace profile picture.  As our friends at 463 noted, this example could very well have been posted by someone with a sick sense of humor. More important, the private investigator is being paid by a lawyer who was being sued by MySpace for spamming its users 

This report comes on top of tireless lobbying by vendors of age verification services, who are telling lawmakers to mandate that online social networks perform (surprise) age verification on all users.

And just today, a vendor that identifies sex offenders on social networking sites produced its own research, announcing that Facebook is hosting “thousands” of registered sex offenders.  Then to help Facebook solve their ‘problem’, this vendor also provided its pricing schedule.

With all these revelations, NetChoice hopes that lawmakers and others remember to consider the messenger when they ponder the message. 

It’s just as important that people don’t miss the forest for the trees.  As Facebook’s Chris Kelly noted today,  “we have not yet had to handle a case of a registered sex offender meeting a minor through Facebook.”

And everyone should take a look at some serious research on child safety and online technologies: a year-long project from Harvard’s Berkman Center, including industry and 49 Attorneys General. The Berkman report shows that social networking and content companies are already doing quite a lot to keep minors safe on their sites. The report concludes that online threats from adults are not nearly as prevalent as youth-on-youth harassment and offline conduct.

The report also concludes that most kids respond appropriately to online safety threats, but that at-risk individuals are also out there.  Online companies will continue to help at-risk kids by implementing their own solutions, observing industry practices, and working with law enforcement.

When it comes to keeping kids safe online, awareness, education, and parental involvement are more promising than ‘research’ designed to sell more services to social network companies.