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

"As part of our ongoing partnership with law enforcement and state attorneys general, we continue to provide information on these removed offenders for their investigations," Nigam said in a statement sent via e-mail. He added that MySpace officials "encourage others in the industry to follow our lead in providing children with the same protections" that the company has implemented on its Web site.

Blumenthal's subpoena coincides with the publicising of research done on the MySpace site by Steven Rambam, senior director of Pallorium. Rambam was hired to do investigative work for a company called Blue China Group that is being sued by MySpace for allegedly spamming and phishing the social networking site's users. Rambam said that while doing the work, he discovered numerous MySpace pages that were set up under the names of registered sex offenders.

Pallorium maintains a database of more than 600,000 sex offenders culled from state registries around the country. Rambam said he took a random sample of 40,000 names from that database and then searched more than 2 million MySpace member pages for matches. An initial search using first and last names, approximate age and city and state of residence as keywords yielded over 12,400 matches, Rambam claimed. Each match was then manually compared with the information in Pallorium's database, including photos of sex offenders.

The search was stopped after 100 exact matches were found, according to Rambam, who said the goal wasn't to find all of the sex offenders on MySpace - just a sample large enough to be used as evidence in court. He contended that he could have found many more matches if he had continued the search. "We have a report of 100 because the client told us to stop at 100," he said.

Rambam added that his search for sex offenders was part of a broader effort to unearth information about MySpace's "corporate culture" for use by Hong Kong-based Blue China Group. "One of the things we were specifically asked to determine was whether MySpace's practices lean towards concealing or condoning improper conduct," he said. "The client believed, and we agreed, that an excellent indicator of MySpace's current corporate culture would be whether or not they were aggressively removing RSOs from their membership rolls."

It is unclear whether there is any connection between Rambam's purported findings and Blumenthal's inquiry. Rambam said his claims have evoked at least preliminary interest from the attorneys general of three states, but he wouldn't name them.

Rambam showed Computerworld several examples of MySpace pages containing names and profile pictures that appeared to match those of registered sex offenders. Such pages could be set up as spoofs by other users who take the information from state registries, but Rambam and others said it isn't all that unusual for sex offenders to use their real names, addresses and photos on sites such as MySpace. They noted that offenders who fail to register under their real names on social networks often face mandatory prison terms if caught.

Nigam said that without being able to examine the pages Rambam claims to have found, it's hard for MySpace to respond to his contentions about sex offenders on the MySpace site. But Nigam added that MySpace has worked hard, both on its own and in conjunction with law enforcement officials, to identify and weed out sex offenders as expeditiously as it can.

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Jaikumar Vijayan

Jaikumar Vijayan

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