MySpace to kids….ID, please.

by Marianne Richmond on January 20, 2007

MySpace recently announced that it was developing software that would be installed on home computers and allow parents to monitor the profile name, age, and location that children (or presumably any other computer user) provides when setting up a profile.It monitors sign ins from the computer on which it is installed as well as from other computers. Access to content within the account is not part of the surveillance.

The issue of online -predators lurking  for under age victims on MySpace and other social networking sites is obviously what is driving this…the question is whether or not this kind of surveillance addresses the problem it is being implemented to address. And it does feel a bit icky from many respects.

MySpace and the other online social networks have been apparently unable to find an age verification solution for the underage users. Other sites employ various means to address some of the peripheral issues of protecting kinds on the internet. Yahoo for instance has a parental control for content feature.There does not seem to be a solution on the horizon to keeping the predators off the site or really controlling determined offenders, adult or child; so MySpace according to Hemanshu Nigam, chief security officer for Fox Interactive Media, the unit that oversees MySpace, is positioning Zephyr as a way to "give parents a tool to force a discussion with their kid."

 Forced discussions are of course always so productive…in reality it is probably safe to say that with most similar issues, the parents who are involved and have positive relationships with their children won’t need to be "forced" and those whose relationships and involvement with their kids put their kids most at risk, cannot be "forced."

And then you have situations such as the kidnapping of Shawn Hornbeck and Ben Ownby in Missouri where there were Missouri; there were no neglectful parents, no online social networks; just victims and predator. 2 teenage sons. I have I I live in the town next to Kirkwood Missouri with my two teenage sons. I have replayed in my ain the thought that mind the fact that Michael Devlin was employed in a pizza place that I have been in; that I have actually encouraged by kids to walk places in our neighborhood (fortunately, it seems now, they prefer to be driven everywhere).

Danah Boyd has a visual on a post about the fact that for all the talk about on-line predators, there isn’t enough attention being paid to the fact that greatest number of sexual predators are in the most intimate relationships with the children that they abuse…..parents, relatives, household members: 95% of abusers are family members, 79% are parents and 5% are not those other than family members.

This is one frightening pie chart.

 She references an article by Pete Reilly that provides some interesting data regarding an unfortunate outcome of concerns about online sexual abuse of children, restrictions of the use of educational technology tools and online resources.

So….back to my original question: Does Zephyr, or any parental surveillance tool, address the problem of on line sexual predators? Well, just off the top of my head, there are many activities that parents should monitor, both online and off. In my experience as a child and as a parent, monitoring is most effective as part of an involved, attentive relationship; trust is the currency of a positive relationship. In my opinion, surveillance tools violate trust.

Online sexual predators are but one risk online; sexual predators in terms of sheer numbers are lurking off line rather than on; ironically it seems based upon the data from the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data Systems that parents themselves are frequently the predators.ÂÂ

The code name for the software is Zephyr although not sure of the relationship between the god of the west wind and protecting kids from online predators. Perhaps parental surveillance tools as it relates to online sexual predators is much like shouting into the {west} wind; less shouting more listening, better outcome.

From a marketing perspective, for MySpace this seems like a lose-lose; alienate your core audience with an empty gesture.

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