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US states applaud safeguards

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MySpace is mending its frayed relations with the top law enforcers of 50 US jurisdictions by beefing up measures to protect underage users from pedophiles.

Officials of the social networking site have already implemented mechanisms that delete profiles of registered sex offenders, make the profiles of 14- and 15-year-old users private and prevent them from being contacted by unknown adult users. MySpace, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch's Fox Interactive Media, also reviews every image, video and Group offered on the site and the content, presumably for content that might not be appropriate for minors.

The measures were announced in a joint press-release issued by MySpace and attorneys general from 49 states and the District of Columbia. The group hug, which praised MySpace for its efforts to protect children, is a far cry from comments that many of the same officials made in May, when they said the site needed to do more to protect children.

In May, for instance, North Carolina AG Roy Cooper trawled through news accounts from 2006 to find more than 100 criminal incidents of adults using MySpace "to prey or attempt to prey on children." That same month, MySpace faced blistering criticism after refusing to to turn over the data on users who are registered sex offenders because, it argued, law enforcement officials hadn't followed the required legal process. The AG offices eventually updated their requests and MySpace turned over the information.

MySpace is by no means the only Web 2.0 property to come to blows with law enforcers over the safety of its underage users. In September, New York AG Andrew Cuomo issued a subpoena to Facebook after investigators posing as young teenagers received sexual advances from adult users and were exposed to pornographic and obscene content. Facebook officials frequently failed to respond when alerted to complaints about the incidents, Cuomo's office said at the time.

Since then, Facebook has agreed to take action against such complaints within 72 hours and allow an independent third party to examine its procedures for vetting complaints.

But Monday's announcement provided a veiled suggestion that Facebook may need to do still more to appease law enforcers: "The attorneys general called on other social networking sites and internet providers with community features to adopt the principles and bring their sites up to par with MySpace in terms of safety," the release stated.

Other measures that MySpace has put in place include a 24-hour hotline for law enforcement officials. The site has also agreed to deploy additional safeguards, including software that does a better job of enforcing the site's minimum age policy of 14. It has also agreed to "explore" the use of technologies that "can help make users more safe and secure including age verification." ®

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