Even as MySpace announces new plans to let European teens waste more time on the Internet, controversy swirls around the company here in the US. After expanding into other English-speaking countries, MySpace will now roll out a localized version of its site in France, Germany, and several as yet unnamed countries over the next few months. In the US, where the site has become phenomenally popular, educators worry that it has become a distraction to many students, and schools have taken measures to block it.
But MySpace has acquired a more sinister reputation among some parents and children’s advocates, who charge the site with not doing enough to verify kids’ ages or to keep sexual predators from using it as a recruiting ground. In the wake of such negative publicity and recent lawsuits, MySpace has begun to crack down on external web sites which mine MySpace relationship data.
One of these sites was SingleStat.us, which received a cease-and-desist letter from the friendly folks at MySpace Legal after having been live for just over a week. The site’s sole function was to alert subscribers to changes in the posted relationship status of MySpace members. MySpace did not think this was as great an idea as did SingleStat’s author, David Weekly.
In a letter dated June 15, MySpace cited several violations of its user policy, including a ban on the commercial use of information about its users. Weekly’s automated script program, which allowed for the notifications, also put “an undue burden on the MySpace servers,” according to a copy of the letter posted on the site.
MySpace wants to maintain control over its data so that it can best decide how such a stockpile of information should be used. Because so many pre-teens use the site (in violation of MySpace’s requirement that they be at least 14 years old), it represents an ideal location for older people (well, men) to get in touch with kids who it would be difficult to strike up a relationship with in real-world circumstances. To make the site less worrying to parents, MySpace will institute a new policy that will prevent adults from making “friend” requests to the youngest members of the site unless the adult already knows the student’s e-mail address.
MySpace does little of substance to verify the ages of those who sign-up, so it’s not clear how much protection the new plan will provide. Those intent on meeting young teens can simply create accounts in which they too claim to be that age. It’s important for MySpace to at least present the appearance of working hard to protect children’s safety (no doubt they are) or the continued backlash from parents and educators could make the site a virtual pariah. On the other hand, what could be better for business than having those in authority try to prevent teens from accessing it?