MySpace and State AGs Sign Document Regarding Online Safety

January 16, 2008. MySpace, which is owned by News Corporation, and most state Attorneys General entered into and released a document [12 pages in PDF] on January 14, 2008, titled "Joint Statement on Key Principles of Social Networking Safety".

It acknowledges the benefits of social networking sites and MySpace's efforts to improve online safety for minors. It provides for the creation of a task force to study online identity management tools and other online safety tools. The appendices, which come after the signatures, list numerous web site design and functionality changes that MySpace has made, or plans to implement.

The document contains no call for state or federal legislation. No other social networking service, and no federal agency is a party to the document.

The document states that "social networking sites are a powerful communications tool that provides people with great social benefits".

It continues that MySpace "has implemented technologies and procedures to help prevent children under 14 from using MySpace and to help protect minors age 14 and above from exposure to inappropriate content and unwarranted contact by adults".

This document then enumerates many principles, and encourages other social networking services to adopt them.

One principle pertains to online safety tools. The document states that "Online safety tools, including online identity management technologies, are important and must be robust and effective in creating a safer online experience, and must meet the particular needs of individual Web sites."

The document also states that MySpace will organize an industry wide entity titled "Internet Safety Technical Task Force" to find and develop online safety tools, and especially, online identity authentication tools.

Another principle pertains to web site design. It states that "Development of effective Web site design and functionality improvements to protect children from inappropriate adult contacts and content must be an ongoing effort."

Another principle pertains to education. It states that "Educating parents, educators and children about safe and responsible social networking site use is also a necessary part of a safe Internet experience for children."

Another principle pertains to law enforcement. It states that "Social networking site operators and law enforcement officials must work together to deter and prosecute criminals misusing the Internet."

Although, the document is silent on many aspects of the nature of this cooperation. It contains nothing regarding data collection by social networking site operators, data retention by social networking site operators, the data that social networking site operators will provide to law enforcement, and pursuant to what process or procedure.

This document is signed by the Attorney Generals of 49 states and the District of Columbia. However, no federal agencies are a party to this document.

MySpace's Chief Security Officer Hemanshu Nigam stated in a release that these principles "set forth what the industry needs to strive towards to provide a safer online experience for teens and we look forward to sharing our ongoing safety innovations with other companies"

Adam Thierer of the Progress and Freedom Foundation (PFF) stated in a release that "This partnership between MySpace and the Attorneys General, along with the establishment of the Task Force, is a giant step forward in the right direction. The principles in the agreement represent a model code of conduct for the entire industry. Other social networking sites would be wise to adopt similar policies and safeguards. I look forward to the coming year as industry partners have the opportunity to transform their safety standards to what MySpace has already done and continues to do."

Thierer has written extensively about online safety tools. See, report [119 pages in PDF] titled "Parental Controls and Online Child Protection: A Survey of Tools & Methods", and story titled "PFF Releases Report on Online Child Protection" in TLJ Daily E-Mail Alert No. 1,598, June 20, 2007. See also, paper [33 pages in PDF] titled "Social Networking and Age Verification: Many Hard Questions; No Easy Solutions", and More News section of TLJ Daily E-Mail Alert No. 1,555, March 21, 2007.

The PFF released on January 16 a paper [7 pages in PDF] by Thierer titled "The MySpace-AG Agreement: A Model Code of Conduct for Social Networking?" that summarizes and analyzes the January 14 document.