The front line in the fight against online sexual predation

Who knew that MySpace would be responsible for the country's first nationwide registry of convicted sex offenders?

Published May 22, 2007 8:30PM (EDT)

Who knew that was at the forefront of the fight against sex offenders? Apparently the site contracted with a background verification firm called Sentinel Tech Holdings Corp. to develop a national database of convicted sex offenders. According to Reuters, MySpace "uses the data to cross-reference against its own database of users and weed out predators." It's also apparently the first national database of its kind -- previously, information was only gathered on a state-by-state basis.

MySpace has already used the database to kick out about 7,000 of its 180 million or so users, according to the Associated Press. But MySpace didn't get rid of their personal information, which users provided at the time of sign-up. Instead, MySpace hung onto it, eventually hoping to figure out a way to legally turn it over to authorities so that predators could be prosecuted.

Monday, that happened. After receiving demands from eight state attorneys general, MySpace and the attorneys general finally figured out a way to transfer the information legally. Authorities will presumably use MySpace's data to track down the sex offenders.

I think it's great that efforts are being taken to stop sexual predation online. But it seems like a losing battle -- after all, what could be a better playground than the Internet for someone hoping to interact with teenagers in an anonymous, private setting? And I'm not quite sure how MySpace is supposed to do things like implement an "effective age verification system," as demanded by Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann. What would that involve? A pop-culture quiz? (If you can't name the top three "American Idol" contestants, you're out.) Also, considering the fact that one person can have an infinite number of e-mail addresses (and provide false information when signing up for membership), it seems as if it'll be difficult to catch any sexual predators who are clever enough to not use their own name. But hey, at least MySpace is trying.

By Catherine Price

Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist and author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. Her written and multimedia work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, PARADE, Health Magazine, and Outside. Price lives in Philadelphia.

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