Yesterday, attorneys general from 49 states (all but California’s) and the District of Columbia announced a sweeping agreement with MySpace under which the company will adopt new measures to protect children online. This announcement culminates many months of negotiations between a task force of the attorneys generals led by Richard Blumenthal, the Connecticut Attorney General and Roy Cooper, the North Carolina Attorney General and is reflective of the intense pressure on web 2.0 sites to protect children online. We previously posted about that pressure, reporting on state attorneys general investigations of MySpace and Facebook here and the subsequent New York attorney general settlement with Facebook here. The new agreement with MySpace is available as an attachment to the press release on the North Carolina Attorney General’s website.
The agreement is notable for its breadth. It goes well beyond the scope of the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (“COPPA”), which applies to the collection of personal information online from children 12 and under. The agreement includes some protections designed to protect teenagers under 18 with stronger protections for those under 16. Under the agreement, MySpace will take some readily achievable operational steps and work towards certain longer term goals such as developing new procedures and tools to protect children.
The more immediate steps include the following:
- continuing to dedicate resources to educate parents and educators on child safety online;
- using “best efforts” to acknowledge consumer complaints within 24 hours of receipt with a follow-up of the steps taken within 72 hours;
- retaining an “Independent Examiner” to evaluate and examine handling of complaints;
- continuing to cooperate with law enforcement on complaints, which includes continuing the law enforcement hotline number and creating a law enforcement liaison;
- implementing a series of operational changes including:
- “age locking” to reduce the number of times a user can change their age above or below the 18 year old threshold;
- age restrictions on certain website functions that make it harder for adults to contact children such as limiting the ability of users over 18 to search in school sections; limiting the ability of users under 18 to designate themselves as swingers; limiting being able to browse certain categories such as “body type”, “smoke” and “drink”; limiting group invites; and automatically designating profiles as private for those under 16;
- an image monitoring policy with technology to hash inappropriate images;
- limitations on tobacco and alcohol advertisements to those under 18 and 21 respectively;
- expanded age specific classifications for events;
- expanded reporting functionality for violations including a drop down for categories such as pornography, cyberbullying and unauthorized use;
- enhancing safety tools for members such as the ability to set profiles to private, the ability to block others and requiring those under 18 to affirmatively consent to having reviewed posted safety tips before registration; and
- enhanced tools for parents such as the ability to remove a child’s profile.
MySpace also has agreed to engage in the following longer term efforts:
- organizing an industry-wide Internet Safety Technical Task Force to develop online safety tools – specifically, improved online identity authentication tools – with quarterly reports to the attorney generals’ task force;
- designating a senior executive to work with the task force;
- holding regular meetings with the attorney generals to discuss website design and functionality improvement to protect children;
- hiring a third party to build and host a database of email addresses for parents to register users under 18 (to prevent child registration at social networking sites);
- blocking access by those under 18 to profiles related to the entertainment industry;
- increasing staff for monitoring and increasing the use of textual searching and other technologies for monitoring.
The agreement is set forth as a statement of principles and the parties have agreed to attempt to achieve the foregoing objectives, among others. According to reports, the attorney generals and MySpace continue to differ on the feasibility of new age authentication and verification technologies. The attorneys general have not ruled out legal action in the future if sufficient progress is not achieved.