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Wednesday, June 21st, 2006
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MySpace.com is planning new restrictions on how adults may contact its younger users in response to growing concerns about the safety of teenagers who frequent the popular online social networking site.

The site already prohibits kids 13 and under from setting up accounts and displays only partial profiles for those registered as 14 or 15 years old unless the person viewing the profile is already on the teen’s list of friends.

Under the changes, expected to be announced Wednesday and taking effect next week, MySpace users who are 18 or over could no longer request to be on a 14- or 15-year-old’s friends’ list unless they already know either the youth’s e-mail address or full name.

Any user will still be able to get a partial profile of younger users by searching for other attributes, such as display name. The difference is that currently, adults can then request to be added to a youth’s list to view the full profile; that option will disappear for adults registered as 18 and over.

Katherine Lester, 16, flew to the Mideast to be with a man she met on MySpace.
Katherine Lester, 16, flew to the Mideast to be with a man she met on MySpace.

However, users under 18 can still make such contact, and MySpace has no mechanism for verifying that users submit their true age when registering. That means adults can sign up as teens and request to join a 14-year-old’s list of friends, which would enable the full profiles.

The partial profiles display gender, age and city. Full profiles describe hobbies, schools and any other personal details a user may provide.

Driven largely by word of mouth, MySpace has grown astronomically since its launch in January 2004 and is now second in the United States among all Web sites by total page views, behind only Yahoo Inc., according to comScore Media Metrix. The site has about 87 million users, about a quarter registered as minors, according to the company.

At MySpace, which was bought last year by News Corp. for $580 million, users can expand their circles of friends by exploiting existing connections, rather than meeting randomly or by keyword matches alone.

It offers a mix of features — message boards, games, Web journals — designed to keep its youth-oriented visitors clicking on its advertising-supported pages.

MySpace has recently become a target of parents, schools and law enforcement officials concerned that teens who hang out at MySpace can fall victim to sexual predators.

Just this week, a 14-year-old girl who says she was sexually assaulted by a 19-year-old user sued MySpace and News Corp., seeking $30 million in damages. And earlier this month, a 16-year-old girl who tricked her parents into getting her a passport flew to the Mideast to be with a 20-year-old man she met through MySpace. U.S. officials in Jordan persuaded the teen to turn around and go home.

MySpace officials say the new restrictions have been long planned and are unrelated to recent events.

Besides the contact restrictions, all users — not just those 14 and 15 — will have the option to make only partial profiles available to those not already on their friends list.

All users also will get an option to prevent contact from people outside their age group. Currently, they may only choose to require that a person know their e-mail or last name first; that will remain an option to those 16 and over, even as it becomes mandatory for those younger.

MySpace also will beef up its ad-targeting technology, so that it can avoid displaying gambling and other adult-themed ads on minors’ profile pages and target special public-service announcements to them.

The changes follow a number of safety-related measures that include the hiring of a former federal prosecutor and Microsoft Corp. executive as its online safety chief. MySpace already has developed safety tips for parents and children and devotes scores of employees to monitoring the site around the clock.

Source: CNN


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