MySpace.com, the top online teen hangout, said yesterday it will bolster protection for minors amid a flurry of complaints about sexual predators prowling the site and a lawsuit filed on Monday by a teenage girl charging it with negligent security practices.
By next week, members over 18 years old would have to know the email or first and last name of any 14- to 15-year-old member whom they want to contact, the company said.
Any of MySpace's more than 85 million members would also be able to choose to hide their online profiles from strangers and only make them viewable to pre-approved friends, the company said.
"We're going to build a foundation of safety and security so that social networking is a safe place and a well-lit community," Hemanshu Nigam, chief security officer of News Corp. unit Fox Interactive Media, told Reuters.
A 14-year-old girl from Austin, Texas, on Monday sued MySpace and its owner, Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., for $30 million (16.3 million pounds), saying she was sexually assaulted by a 19-year-old man she met on the site.
The suit charges the company with failing to take enough precautions to protect minors from sexual predators.
MySpace said it was reviewing the lawsuit, and had for several months been developing safety measures that would make it more difficult for strangers to contact minors using the site.
The company is scheduled to present its plans on Thursday at an event sponsored by the National Centre for Missing & Exploited Children.
The social networking site, where teens post elaborate profiles of their lives and interests, meet new people and share their taste in new music, has become one of the Internet's fastest growing properties since News Corp. purchased it for $580 million last year.
The purchase made Murdoch the toast of Wall Street at a time when rivals fretted about losing television viewers and newspapers readers to the Internet and video games.
But its early success has been tempered by reports of sexual predators on the prowl for children on the site. In March two men were arrested in Connecticut and charged with having illegal sexual contact with young girls -- one 11 years old and the other 14 -- they contacted through MySpace.
The minimum age for MySpace membership is 14, the company said, but the requirement is hard to enforce with existing technology, Nigam said.
The Texas suit "alleges that MySpace.com had full knowledge that sexual predators were contacting young children on the Website but did nothing to stop it," according to a statement by law firm Barry & Loew LLP, which is representing the girl.
A News Corp. spokeswoman said the company had no immediate comment on the charges.
In response to the March attacks and subsequent public outcry, MySpace in May hired Nigam, a former prosecutor against Internet child exploitation at the U.S. Justice Department, to lead security efforts.
MySpace said its advertising policy will also be altered to target appropriate age groups. For instance, ads for mature online dating sites will not be presented to minors.
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