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US states press MySpace to give up sex offender data

'Gravely concerned that sexual predators are using MySpace to lure children'

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Attorneys general from eight states say they have information that thousands of sex offenders have profiles on MySpace. They are concerned that predators may be using the social networking site as a virtual meeting place with their underage victims and today they authored a letter calling on the company to disclose the exact number of offenders and identify each one.

The letter is the latest headache at MySpace, which by dint of its 177 million registered users and massive amount of web traffic has become a preferred target for spammers and scammers. Earlier today, we reported that a new wave of spam has turned one of the most popular groups on MySpace to a barren wasteland. Such problems show the powerful downside to Web 2.0's viral nature.

None of this has been lost on the more alert law enforcement officials. They astutely noted that in December MySpace hired Sentinel Tech Holding to help it track pedophiles who may be using its site. MySpace at the time was reeling from countless front-page stories detailing how convenient the site made it for unscrupulous adults to meet face-to-face with minors. (The most notable among those stories came from Wired News reporter Kevin Poulsen, who wrote a program that cross-indexed MySpace profiles with registered sex offenders. He was able to confirm 744.) So now, some six months later after the MySpace gesture, they are demanding the site come clean with what it's learned so far.

"As our states' chief legal officers, we are gravely concerned that sexual predators are using MySpace to lure children into face-to-face encounters and other dangerous activities," they write. "We remain concerned about the design of your site, the failure to require parental permission, and the lack of safeguards necessary to protect our children."

The letter seeks the exact number and identities of MySpace users who also appear in Sentinel's database of registered sex offenders, the number and identities of sex offenders who have ever been identified as MySpace users and what steps MySpace has taken to alert officials and end users of the danger posed by these users. It also seeks what steps MySpace has taken to remove predators from its user profiles. The letter requests MySpace officials provide the information by May 29.

In response, MySpace said in a statement it is "in the initial stages of cross referencing our membership against Sentinel's registered sex offender database and removing any confirmed matches". It didn't explain why it has taken so long or when the job might be completed. The statement went on to call for the passage of federal legislation requiring sex offenders to register their email address.

Evidence is ample that MySpace doesn't do as much as it could to protect its users from online threats. The company for years has been lax about the use of JavaScript that can be used in member profiles. That has made it possible for ne'er-do-wells to exact all kinds of mischief, such as exploiting security flaws in QuickTimeand other end user software to infect users.

MySpace has also been harshly criticized for not doing more to protect its large number of underage users from predators. In January a suit alleged MySpace didn't do enough to prevent several predators from using the site to meet teen users and then sexually assaulting them.

The attorneys general are from the states of Connecticut, Georgia, Idaho, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Mississippi and New Hampshire.®

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