Social networking sites urged to use age verification
US regulators are calling for MySpace, Facebook and other social networking websites to introduce age verification software, in an attempt to clamp down on growing incidences of abduction and child sex abuse cases occurring online.
Facebook has agreed to introduce stricter child safety warnings, after agreeing a settlement with Andrew Cuomo, New York State attorney general, following a subpoena in September which said Facebook misled users by promoting itself as a safe place for children from sex attackers.
Cuomo said the new measures adopted by Facebook would create "a new model" for other social networking websites to follow in tackling internet sex crime. Facebook will now state it cannot guarantee the safety of users, and will set up a process where users can report sexually inappropriate conduct, which it must respond to within 24 hours.
In addition, US legal authorities have been holding high-level meetings with MySpace's parent company News Corporation, to discuss introducing an independently monitored age verification system to stop sexual predators targeting minors on the site.
Meanwhile, Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut attorney-general, has said Facebook could face legal action, possibly in the form of consumer fraud charges, if the US courts were not satisfied it was doing enough to protect users from sex offenders and offensive material.
Blumenthal said: "Much more must be done to protect children on Facebook. Drastic changes must better shield children from sexual predators, unsuitable content and unsafe adults."
The US currently has 11 states signed up to a coalition to tackle sex crime occurring on social networking websites, which have been implicated in a growing number of abduction and paedophilia cases in the last year.
In May this year, MySpace responded to calls from US state attorney-generals that it could be doing more to shield minors from sex attacks by removing the online profiles of thousands of convicted sex offenders in the US, following the appointment of its first chief security officer, Hemanshu Nigam.
MySpace has previously said it was doing "everything short of breaking the law" in ensuring information it had on registered sex offenders was handed over to legal authorities. News Corp said it is only able to release personal details on MySpace users when issued with a subpoena under the US Electronic Communications Act.
MySpace has run a Kiefer Sutherland-fronted "internet survival guide" campaign to warn parents of the potential risks posed to children online. In addition, the website worked with online security company Sentinel Tech to implement a database able to match MySpace profiles with public sex offender records.
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