Feeds

Chat sites must take care of their kids

LunarStorm of opinion

The Essential Guide to IT Transformation

Interview The companies behind social networking sites are failing in their duty of care by not protecting their most vulnerable users, according to Matt Colebourne, CEO of digital society site, LunarStorm. He argues that companies like MySpace need to bite the bullet and put proper security systems in place, even if that means spending a fair chunk of change.

"It is as though these sites, which in many cases were developed for adults, are ignoring the fact that they have younger people online. MySpace, for instance, has not done its job," he reckons, referring to the case of a 14-year old girl who is suing the company for millions of dollars after she was allegedly sexually assaulted by someone she met on the mySpace network.

Simply listing proscribed behaviour to children and teenagers and expecting them to toe the line is naive: "You can't expect teenagers to follow the rules, and you have to presume that until someone is an adult, you don't always know enough to be able to make decisions that are in your own best interests. That is the presumption of law. So you have to take a proactive approach to monitoring, and have people patrolling the forums."

LunarStorm, which is aimed specifically at the 17 to 19 year old age group, employs security staff to keep tabs on what is going on in its chatrooms, and recruits volunteers to moderate each space and report anything untoward.

But it doesn't want to be Big Brother. After all, when you get a bunch of teenagers talking, there will be some frank and no doubt fruity discussions, and not all of these will be the kinds of things parents want their kids talking about. But until it crosses the line and becomes illegal or dangerous, Colebourne is happy to stay out of it.

"What we look for is content or behaviour that might cause harm - physical or mental - to come to one of our users," he says. "We are not the moral arbiters of this space."

The biggest problem, he says, is not the most high profile, but is bullying by the peergroup. "Let's not overstate the case. The threat [from paedophiles] is very small."

But it does exist, so how do you deal with it? Like MySpace, LunarStorm requires users to register and state their age. But again, like MySpace, there is no way of verifying the age listed is genuine (we signed up to LunarStorm as a 19-year-old, to see if we could - yep, no problem).

"Criminals will always misrepresent themselves, so you have to look for behaviour. We do some assessments of the kind of language people use because language is indicative of age - it is hard not to trip up if you are pretending to be younger than you are."

The company also has its back-end systems monitoring for indicative behaviour. This could be things like repeatedly searching for a very specific type of person to chat with, then lurking rather than contacting them. But also the behaviour profiles of the different age groups on the site are pretty well known. Anyone falsely claiming to be 19, for instance, should stick out like a sore thumb.

"Fixation is a pretty well known paedophile behaviour," he says. As for the rest? "Even I don't know what the other indicators are. We don't want anyone to be able to subvert our systems, so we keep the details secret." ®

Build a business case: developing custom apps

More from The Register

next story
iPad? More like iFAD: We reveal why Apple fell into IBM's arms
But never fear fanbois, you're still lapping up iPhones, Macs
Sonos AXES support for Apple's iOS4 and 5
Want to use your iThing? You can't - it's too old
Amazon says Hachette should lower ebook prices, pay authors more
Oh yeah ... and a 30% cut for Amazon to seal the deal
Philip K Dick 'Nazi alternate reality' story to be made into TV series
Amazon Studios, Ridley Scott firm to produce The Man in the High Castle
Joe Average isn't worth $10 a year to Mark Zuckerberg
The Social Network deflates the PC resurgence with mobile-only usage prediction
Chips are down at Broadcom: Thousands of workers laid off
Cellphone baseband device biz shuttered
Feel free to BONK on the TUBE, says Transport for London
Plus: Almost NOBODY uses pay-by-bonk on buses - Visa
Twitch rich as Google flicks $1bn hitch switch, claims snitch
Gameplay streaming biz and search king refuse to deny fresh gobble rumors
Stick a 4K in them: Super high-res TVs are DONE
4,000 pixels is niche now... Don't say we didn't warn you
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
The Essential Guide to IT Transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIO's automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise.
Maximize storage efficiency across the enterprise
The HP StoreOnce backup solution offers highly flexible, centrally managed, and highly efficient data protection for any enterprise.