Last week, the social networking giant--clearly prodded by government pressure--announced its latest safety efforts, created alongside attorneys general of 49 states. A critical part of those efforts is centered on email.
MySpace plans to let parents submit their kids' email addresses; MySpace will then block those address users from setting up MySpace profiles. If young kids can't create MySpace profiles, the argument goes, they'll be safe from those MySpacers who use kids' MySpace pages to harm them.
But the plan has a critical flaw--it's extremely easy for kids to set up free email accounts. And so even if parents submit what they believe to be their kids' sole email address, there's little to keep kids from signing up for a new address without their parents' knowledge. And once kids have a secret email address, there's little to keep them from setting up a secret MySpace profile.
That's where IP addresses come in. MySpace should offer a simple interface that lets parents recognize their computer's IP address, and to share that IP address with MySpace (the technology behind this would be relatively basic). Parents could then tell MySpace to reject new profiles created through their IP, and thereby blocking kids' participation in the online networking site.
It will be difficult for kids to get an IP address behind their parent's back--and so it will be hard for kids to create a secret MySpace profile, too.
Schools and libraries should also block MySpace from their computers. That way, kids whose parents don't want them on the site won't be able to set up secret MySpace profiles from school.
Obviously, an IP-blocking strategy won't eliminate all online dangers overnight (if only things were that simple), but it will do significantly more to protect kids than collecting e-mail addresses ever will. And since it's the best we can do for now, we owe it to our kids to make the new plan happen.
After all, kids' safety on social networks isn't just an issue within massive MySpace. It's equally critical in the entire world of online social sites--like Facebook, Bebo, Orkut, Club Penguin, myYearbook, and every other social network that exists or that will emerge later. So protecting kids on MySpace means securing the whole future of our youth online, and that's a serious issue.
That's also why I say: put IP data to good use now.
David Honig is Vice President, Media at Didit. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.