NEW YORK – Popular online social network MySpace said on Tuesday it will begin sending online alerts to users in certain U.S. regions to help find missing children as part of an expansion of plans to expand safeguards for users.
MySpace struck a partnership with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children to enable MySpace AMBER alerts, a program between the media and law enforcement to issue early warning broadcast bulletins in serious child abduction cases.
It is part of an upgrade by News Corp.-owned (NWS) MySpace of safety features designed to address concerns of child safety advocates, some of whom say it has been slow to keep its many teenage members safe from adult predators.
Last week, the families of five teenage victims of sexual abuse by adult MySpace users sued the service for negligence in protecting its users. Last year, the family of a 14-year-old girl sued the company in a similar case.
MySpace hired a former U.S. Justice Department prosecutor last year to improve its online safety program.
The AMBER alerts, named after 9-year-old Amber Hagerman, who was kidnapped and murdered in 1996 in Texas, will appear in a small text box at the top of a profile, MySpace said. The alerts give MySpace users the option to get more information about the case, such as photos and information on suspects.
"We've been working with partners ... and law enforcement to find any possible avenue we can take to protect our nation's children, keeping sex offenders off our site and providing technology that the entire industry can take advantage of," MySpace Chief Security Officer Hemanshu Nigam said in a phone interview.
The explosive growth in MySpace usage since its purchase by News Corp. in September 2005 has made it a target for sex predators who prey on its huge teen population.
MORE SAFETY FEATURES
As part of its safety program, MySpace now requires all new members to register with a valid e-mail address, which they say helps law enforcement track down potential predators. New applicants will receive a verification e-mail with a link requiring them to click back and verify their identity.
U.S. senators Charles Schumer and John McCain said last month they planned to introduce legislation that would require convicted sex offenders to register active e-mail addresses, expanding the existing requirements that they register personal information with local municipalities.
The database of e-mail addresses would let social networking sites like MySpace bar offenders from their services by cross-checking new applicants against the database.
MySpace struck a deal with background verification firm Sentinel Tech Holding Corp. to build a new technology, Sentinel Safe, which will let MySpace search state and federal databases to seek out and delete profiles of registered sex offenders.
MySpace previously did not require users to verify e-mails as some Internet service providers using junk e-mail filters were unable to recognize the verification mail as legitimate.
In the last few months, MySpace has been in talks with U.S. Internet service providers to unblock verification e-mails.
All users also now have the option to make their profile private — once only available to 14- and 15-year-old members.
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