90,000 sex offenders removed from MySpace


The online networking site MySpace has identified and barred some 90,000 registered sex offenders from using the site over the last two years, MySpace revealed to an investigative task force yesterday.

The "shocking" number was 40,000 more than MySpace had previously acknowledged, according to Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, a co-chairman of the task force of state attorneys general looking into sex offenders' use of social networking.

MySpace, owned by News Corp's Fox Interactive Media digital division, disclosed the figures to the task force in response to a subpoena.

"This shocking revelation, resulting from our subpoena, provides compelling proof that social networking sites remain rife with sexual predators," Mr Blumenthal said in a statement.

Mr Blumenthal's office said it was awaiting a response to a similar subpoena issued to Facebook, another popular social networking site that his office said also might host "substantial numbers of convicted offenders."

Facebook's chief privacy officer Chris Kelly said in a statement it was working with Mr Blumenthal's office but said the site had "not yet had to handle a case of a registered sex offender meeting a minor through Facebook."

"Unlike MySpace or other social networking sites, Facebook has always enforced a real-name culture and has developed and deployed social verification and powerful privacy rules that allow people to interact in a safer and more trusted environment," the statement said.

Two years ago, MySpace commissioned background verification firm Sentinel Safe Tech Holdings to create a national database of sex offenders after reports that some of its teenage users were abducted by sex predators.

Sentinel operates a US database of sex offenders that includes as many as 120 details for each offender, from their names and addresses to their scars and tattoos, Sentinel chief executive John Cardillo said. Before the national database was created, information on convicted sex offenders was available only locally.

MySpace said yesterday the technology had enabled it to identify 90,000 users as registered sex offenders - people who have been found guilty of sex crimes and ordered to register with law enforcement officials - and had removed and blocked them from the site.

"We can confirm that MySpace has removed these individuals from our site and is providing data about these offenders to any law enforcement agency including the Attorney General's in Connecticut," MySpace's chief security officer Hemanshu Nigam said in a statement.

Fianna Fáil MEP Eoin Ryan yesterday called for online grooming of children to be made a criminal offence.

Speaking in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, Mr Ryan called for the introduction of a system of contact points for the public to report illegal and harmful content and conduct on the internet.

“About eight out of ten children in the European Union use the internet and I think we must take particular care to protect the most vulnerable children from bullying, grooming and harassment,” Mr Ryan said. “We need to promote public awareness and online safety, especially among children, but also among parents so that they know exactly what is going on and what can be done on the internet."