Web sites like MySpace open the world to young people eager for new experiences. But the sites also have a dark side, drawing sexual predators to the party line.
"We have seen [the] number of arrested predators using MySpace nearly double over the past year," said Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal. "For instance, in 2006, eight of the 27 individuals we arrested in 2006 were using MySpace. In 2007, 31 of the 54 individuals who we arrested were also using MySpace."
After a year of negotiation, the top law enforcement officers in 49 states announced Monday an agreement with MySpace to better police the Internet site. MySpace has agreed to allow parents to submit their children's e-mail addresses, making it harder to misuse them to set up profiles.
It will make "private" default settings for 16- and 17-year-old users. It promises to respond to complaints within 72 hours, strengthen software to find underage users, and create a high-school section for users under 18.
"I commend MySpace for its willingness to step up and make its site safer," said North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper. "With this agreement, MySpace is tackling some of the most risky elements of social networking."
Law enforcement has long sought ways to prevent sexual predators from using social networking Web sites to contact children. They're now inviting other sites to join the agreement.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children issued a statement, calling it a positive step -- particularly the fact that a working group will be established to develop new technologies to verify the ages of users, and, the fact that MySpace agreed to independent monitoring
Others are not so impressed. Real protection, they say is up to parents.
The law enforcement officers who unveiled the agreement Monday say they expect it will take another year to develop all the software needed to make MySpace completely safe.
If there's a key to the protection in this agreement, it's the age-identifying software. Experts say it'll take at least a year to develop and make it work.