MySpace faces fresh controversy over sex offender issue

Conn. AG subpoenas data on deleted user accounts; company defends removal efforts after PI claims he found sex offenders on site

Just two weeks after a task force whose formation was spearheaded by MySpace delivered a report saying that social networking sites were safer from sexual predators than many people had assumed, MySpace finds itself dealing with a new inquiry related to registered sex offenders by Connecticut's attorney general.

In addition, a private investigator doing work for a Hong Kong-based company involved in a legal dispute with MySpace is claiming that potentially thousands of pages on the social networking site were set up by sex offenders, based on a data-matching search he conducted. MySpace, which has yet to be given the purported findings, noted that the claims were made on behalf of a company it has sued, although the Hong Kong firm's lawyer insisted that he isn't trying to use the information as leverage in settlement talks with MySpace.

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal served the subpoena on MySpace last Friday, asking the company to turn over all the information it has on individuals whose member pages and friends lists were removed from the social network after they were identified as registered sex offenders, or RSOs. The apparent reason for the request is to evaluate whether such information could point investigators toward contacts that known sex offenders might have had with other MySpace users, especially minors, before their accounts were deleted.

A spokesman for Blumenthal's office confirmed yesterday that the subpoena had been issued but declined to disclose any further details about the inquiry.

It isn't unusual for social networking sites to be asked for information about sex offenders from law enforcement officials looking into online safety issues. For instance, MySpace itself was subpoenaed in May 2007 by Blumenthal and other attorneys general who wanted the company to turn over the names of sex offenders using its site; two months later, the company said it had identified 29,000 Registered Sex Offenders (RSOs) among its users.

Similarly, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo subpoenaed Facebook in September 2007, seeking documents related to complaints that the company had received about the solicitation of underage users and the posting of inappropriate content on its Web site. First MySpace and then Facebook signed deals with a group of state AGs last year promising to improve online safety protections for children on their sites.

Hemanshu Nigam, MySpace's chief security officer, yesterday acknowledged receipt of Blumenthal's subpoena and said the company would comply and provide the Connecticut attorney general with the information he's seeking, as it has done in response to previous requests from state officials.

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Jaikumar Vijayan

Computerworld
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