Michael B. Duff

Lubbock's answer to a question no one asked

Duff: Can you trust MySpace to protect your child? Texas official says no

Duff: Can you trust MySpace to protect your child? Texas official says no

Internet hot spot MySpace is implementing a series of measures designed to help protect kids from online predators. These steps have been accepted by every state but Texas.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said, “We cannot endorse any initiative that fails to implement a reliable age verification system. Doing so would give Texas parents and their children a false sense of security.”

The MySpace proposal includes an impressive list of protective measures, but none of them can protect a child who lies about his age. MySpace is creating a database that will allow parents to submit e-mail addresses to prevent their children from establishing MySpace profiles, but even having a database can be risky.

A database of kids could be abused by unscrupulous people who have access to that information, but when you consider the full spectrum of risks involved, I think the database is still worth doing.

Under the agreement, profiles for users under age 16 will be set to private so no strangers can get information from their profile, users can block anyone over 18 from contacting them, and people over 18 cannot add anyone under 16 as a friend in their network unless they have their last name or their e-mail address.

The MySpace measures are very smart, but they only work if you put in a correct age. Kids routinely lie about their ages so they can access adult material, and predators frequently pose as children so they can get closer to their victims.

I like the steps MySpace has taken to protect kids, but I’m concerned that this whole arrangement shifts responsibility to the wrong party.

I’m uncomfortable with the assumption that service providers should be held responsible for the actions of their users. MySpace is getting out in front of this trend, not simply out of concern for kids, but because they’re trying to stem the tide of public outrage that will eventually lead to government regulation of their industry.

Pleas for parental responsibility have become a libertarian cliche, but I’m going to use one anyway. I’m glad to see MySpace taking steps to protect kids, but there is no substitute for active and involved parents.

If you’re concerned about your kids visiting MySpace, there are a number of excellent net nanny programs on the market. These programs can fill the gap to some extent, but the best remedies are still old-fasioned and low-tech.

Keep the family computer in a public space where you can watch what your kids do and monitor who they interact with. Turn the computer off and lock it, so it can’t be used when you’re not around. And frequently check your computer’s browser history to see where your kids are going on the Web.

If your child has a blog or a MySpace account you need to find it and you need to read it. Educate yourself about how the Internet works and learn to use the tools that your kids are using.

Kids are sneaky, and they know how to exploit your ignorance. The learning curve can be intimidating, but ultimately, you need to be as picky about your child’s online friends as you are about the ones who come to the house.

Written by Michael B. Duff

January 18, 2008 at 13:39

Posted in Columns

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