Category Archives: MySpace

A Good Perspective on Social Networking Identity Verification Issues

Zach Martin, editor of CR80 News recently published an article about the identity and age verification issues we are facing in social networks. You definitely should check it out but in case you don’t have time here are some important highlights:

When trying to get into a bar or club there is typically someone at the door checking IDs. But on social networking sites there is no bouncer, which means there’s no way to tell whether you’re corresponding with a 15-year-old girl or a 32-year-old man.

It’s the same no matter where you go. MySpace, Facebook, and professional networking site LinkedIn, do little to make sure people are who they claim to be. “There is a general feeling that social networking is the wild west of identity management and a lot of bad things happen because proper controls haven’t been put in place,” says Roger K. Sullivan, president of the Liberty Alliance Project management board.

The stories range from the tame to the tragic.

A student not happy with an administrator at school creates a profile on a social networking site. Even though the student is a woman she creates a profile that is a man and then flirts with the administrator in order to cause her embarrassment later.

At a Catholic school in the Chicago suburbs, an administrator monitors the popular social sites on a regular basis just to make sure nothing out of the ordinary is happening. She has run into instances where students create accounts in other peoples’ names – people who actually exist – and then make false statements. For example, one student set up an account as a real person from another school and made statements about the student’s sexual proclivities while giving out her real phone number.

In 2006, a fake profile led to the suicide of a 13-year-old Missouri girl. A classmate’s mother originally created the profile to find out if Megan Meier was saying anything bad about her daughter. But then it was used to gain Meier’s confidence and then to tear her down. Angry messages went back and forth, and it ended with Meier hanging herself.

There’s also the need to prevent pedophiles from contacting children online. MySpace has agreed with different states’ attorney generals to adopt better technologies that will help identify underage users so they can be protected from predators, but the social networking site hasn’t figured out how it’s going to do it.

The vast majority of sites don’t do anything to try to confirm the identities of members. The sites also don’t want to absorb the cost of trying to prove the identity of their members. Also, identifying minors is almost impossible because there isn’t enough information out there to authenticate their identity.

But this may all change. As sites become more scrutinized they will have to take steps to make sure people are who they say. “There will be a trend to use a third party that leverages database information that will be able to vouch for you and provide a more certain level of identification,” says Eric Skinner, chief technology officer at Entrust, an Addison, Texas-based digital identification vendor.

There are a handful of vendors that are offering online identity vetting. Most are working with financial institutions, but they see business opportunities with the social networking sites.

The article goes on to describe some social networks and their use of identity verification including one of our clients FunkySexyCool and their use of our system. It also discusses the privacy concerns related to age verification of minors and provides a possible solution the Liberty Alliance is discussing essentially related to ID 2.0

Liberty Alliance’s Sullivan, who is also vice president of Oracle Identity Management, says it’s only a matter of time before social networking sites offer tiers of identification assurance, which could be used to confirm a minor’s identity. For example, if a 14 year old wanted to sign up on MySpace without a parents’ permission they would be placed on the lowest ID tier. “They would be put into a question mark bucket,” Sullivan says.

But if one parent went online and confirmed his child’s identity they would be raised up a tier. If both parents did it they would go up two tiers. The parents would be authenticated through public records and online databases.

Eventually there would be a fourth tier as well. A minor would physically go to a trusted source with documents that prove their age and identity. These identity assurance sources don’t exist, but it’s something the Liberty Alliance is working toward, Sullivan says.

The next task force meeting will be later this month and I’m looking forward to seeing how the conversation progresses. I firmly believe we can find several ways to combat the issues at hand including both an educational approach and technological approach.

On another note, I’m off to the RSA Conference next week. IDology has a booth this year so if you are in San Fran, stop by and see us.


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Filed under Age Verification, Identity 2.0, Identity verification, Internet Safety, MySpace, protecting kids online, security, social networking

Internet Safety Technical Task Force Kicks Off

We had the kick-off meeting for the Internet Safety Technical Task Force this week.  As I expected, there are a lot of differing opinions of the committee members.  It should be an interesting year to watch how things progress. 

I believe the key to progress is being able to listen and keeping an open mind.  Which is just what I intend to do.


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Filed under Age Verification, Internet Safety, MySpace, protecting kids online, Richard Blumenthal, sexual predators, social networking

Taking Internet Safety To Task…

It’s official! The Task Force to focus on identifying effective online safety tools and technologies, including age and identity verification has been created and was announced today.  If you recall, this Task Force was an important element in the MySpace and Attorneys General Multi-State Working Group announced last month. 

The Task Force is being led by John Palfrey who is the Executive Director at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School.  And among its members are organizations concerned with this issue including Non-Profits, Academics, Prominent Internet Businesses and Technology Companies, of which IDology is one of the appointed members.  Other member names you will recognize are AOL, Symantec, Microsoft, Verizon, Google, Facebook, Xanga, Yahoo, WiredSafety.org and more.

Personally I’m excited about this opportunity.  In the press release issued by the Berkman Center today, Palfrey says:

“We should work together – private firms, technologists, experts from the non-profit world and leaders in government – to solve online safety issues as a joint effort.”

I couldn’t agree more with Palfrey.  The task force faces a very difficult issue where there are differing opinions.  I believe all of its members need to keep an open mind and a team approach if we are going to make headway in solving this problem to create a safe online environment for our children.

I look forward to having healthy, productive discussions on the issues at hand.


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Filed under Age Verification, child safety, Facebook, Identity verification, Internet Safety, MySpace, protecting kids online, social networking, Xanga

MySpace Sees the Identity and Age Verification Light…

Today’s press release out of North Carolina Attorney General’s Office Roy Cooper is a big deal. Here’s the first paragraph:

In a victory for social networking safety, Attorney General Roy Cooper and 49 other attorneys general today announced that MySpace has agreed to significant steps to better protect children on its web site, including creating a task force to explore and develop age and identity verification technology.

It’s been a long 2 years in this education process and the fruits of our labors are finally coming to fruition. Given MySpace’s leadership position and popularity, gaining recognition and cooperation from them will only serve to help advance identity and age verification technologies growth in the market. Here are some words that are music to my ears:

MySpace acknowledged in the agreement the important role of age and identity verification technology in social networking safety and agreed to find and develop on-line identity authentication tools.

Obviously there is still a lot of work to do but I’m glad to see that we are all going to roll up our sleeves together and do what is best for our kids – find a way to help keep them safe online.

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Filed under Age Verification, child safety, Identity verification, Internet Safety, MySpace, protecting kids online, Richard Blumenthal, sexual predators, social networking

MySpace Irony

I’m sure by now you’ve seen the news that the co-founder of MySpace has been caught faking his age on his MySpace profile. Quite ironic given the age verification issues social networks are facing these days. But now seems as good a time as any to say that age and identity verification doesn’t mean you can’t have an online persona that is or isn’t based on your true age.

While I would recommend not giving away any personally identifying information on your profile for the sake of safety (including your birthday), the point of having an age and identity verification solution within a social network is to function behind the scenes to verify someone is an adult and help us monitor what is appropriate for our kids.

Last week IDology representatives attended a forum on Internet Safety with Georgia’s Governor Sonny Perdue. This was part of the Governor’s Child Safety Internet initiative (a.k.a. CSI Georgia) and was well attended by teachers, law enforcement, child advocates, parents, and business leaders. Clearly as a community we are all concerned with keeping kids safe on the Internet.

There are two components to CSI Georgia which are prevention and enforcement. Prevention includes strong education and awareness initiatives towards caregivers, teachers and kids about the dangers of the Internet as well as how to stay safe. What I think is often overlooked in these discussions but definitely a strong component of any prevention initiative is the efforts ecommerce companies need to take to protect kids online. On the forum panel was Michael McKeehan, the Executive Director of Internet & Technology Policy from Verizon, which incidentally was the major sponsor of the event and is very committed to CSI Georgia as evident in their $25K grant announced during the event. This effort (and participation) by Verizon shows that the telecommunications industry is one of the leaders in taking proactive steps to protect kids not only in their education efforts but also their business practices as recommended through the CTIA guidelines regarding content access by minors. Boy, how I’m ready for the major social networks to follow the telecommunications industry example and adopt guidelines themselves.

In my personal efforts to further protect kids online through both promoting age verification and providing education, here are some programs you need to check out:

  • Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA) – this organization offers a “The Internet and Your Child” free safety class for parents and anyone else who supervises children’s online activities. Topics include Windows basics, parental controls, popular Web sites for social networking, hacking, and protecting your privacy from identity thieves. Also instructors go online and pose as children to show participants the types of dangers children may be exposed to online.
  • Project Safe Childhood – the US Department of Justice launched Project Safe Childhood which includes a new outreach program called “eSafe Georgia.” eSafe Georgia is a pilot program which involves training high school students to be experts in internet safety, technology and public speaking who will then film presentations about these topics to be presented in middle school assemblies, classes and school newscasts this year. Additionally eSafe Georgia teams will travel to middle school classes to provide instructions about playing “Missing” an interactive internet safety game produced by WebWise Kids.
  • The Family Online Safety Institute – an international, non-profit organization that facilitates the meeting of thought leaders in technology and policy in order to find innovative solutions for family online safety. Here you can get access to The ParentalControl Bar which is a free public service that helps concerned parents prevent their children from accessing adult-oriented Web sites as well as some great materials to help you start discussing these issues with kids.

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Filed under Age Verification, Internet Safety, Internet Security, MySpace, protecting kids online, sexual predators, social networking

The United States of Attorneys Generals

The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that the Attorneys Generals of all 50 States have joined forces to pressure social networking sites to require greater parental controls and age verification tools so that minors can’t access the sites so easily.

Here’s what Blumenthal had to say:

“These sites say they want to cooperate, but they have resisted the concept of age or identity verification.”

While there are always several reasons companies resist change, one that really stands out to me as a probable explanation in this situation is the fear that something of value will be lost. Like members.

One of the biggest arguments social networks have claimed from the beginning about age verification ineffectiveness is how difficult it is to verify the age of a minor. Yes, there are challenges with this. But instead of clinging to this as an excuse not to act, why not focus on what can be done today. And that is age verify the adults.

Although Facebook has received some attention lately about a few predators getting on the site since opening up to the general public, they are most well known for their ability to separate users under 18 from those over. And ZoeysRoom seems to be doing a good job of verifying that its members are kids.

What I think we need to move away from is the notion that this problem is only an issue of age. Blumenthal had it right when he referred to it as “age or identity verification.”

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Filed under Age Verification, Facebook, Identity verification, Internet Safety, MySpace, protecting kids online, Richard Blumenthal, social networking

Blumenthal Shows a Different Facebook

Another social networking site is starting to take some heat from law enforcement in its ability to keep sexual predators off its site. The New York Times reports that Facebook, which has positioned itself as the safe social-networking alternative because it takes greater lengths than other social networks to keep adults and under-age users apart, is now under scrutiny from Connecticut’s Attorney General Richard Blumenthal. Blumenthal’s interest comes from a few recent cases involving convicted sex offenders joining the site and from investigators finding inappropriate images and content. He also has a personal interest because his children use Facebook.

The article says Chris Kelly, the chief privacy officer at Facebook is:

“not familar with the Connecticut investigation but that the company has received ‘a number’ of such reports and usually takes down such profiles within 72 hours.”

Some of you might remember Kelly who appeared on a panel discussion at the RSA security conference last February titled Pandora’s Box – Youth and Internet Security in the Information Age. I highly recommend watching this panel discussion if you haven’t already.

 

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Filed under Age Verification, Chris Kelly, Facebook, Internet Safety, MySpace, protecting kids online, Richard Blumenthal, sexual predators, social networking