WASHINGTON --- John A. Phillips, CEO of Aristotle, announced Thursday the official launch of www.ChildOnlineProtectionService.com (COPS), a web portal designed to educate parents about the real risks of online predation.
Phillips, an expert in identity verification technologies and Internet Safety Technical Task Force member, launched COPS with the goal of empowering parents to have a voice in this debate and provide a means to hold social networking sites -- such as MySpace -- accountable for failure to adopt appropriate safety protocols and user identification technologies necessary to reduce risks of online predation.
"I echo the concerns of our law enforcement and legal communities relating to the Task Force's Final Report," Phillips said. "Parents should not be lulled into a false sense of security. The threats are real. Just this morning, in response to subpoena, MySpace admitted to finding 90,000 convicted sex offenders on its site. To put that into perspective, 1-out-of-every-8 convicted sex offenders in the United States had a profile on MySpace--and this only includes those registering using their real names.
"The fact is MySpace has no idea of how many registered sex offenders have infested its site - and still doesn't. Here's why. The 90,000 figure - while disturbing - is in no way an accurate estimate of how many sexual predators are trolling for victims online, masquerading under false identities. The number of convicted sex offenders could be double or triple - how would they know?"
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While purging known sexual offenders from the site is a good first step, nothing prevents these predators from simply signing up again under an alias and picking up where they left off. Unlike some other social networking sites, MySpace has no process by which the identity of a user is authenticated. Email addresses, ages, genders, and locations - as well as countless other details - can be forged without consequence.
While the initial discovery of convicted sex offenders on MySpace served as the catalyst to form the Internet Safety Technical Task Force, the 50,000 predator profiles found on MySpace (as of June 2008), which chronicle unlawful activities between convicted sex offenders and minors, were never requested for analysis by the Task Force leadership. In fact, the Task Force Final Report did not even call for these records to be preserved for study.
"This blatant omission, coupled with today's announcement, casts the findings of the Final Report into serious doubt," Phillips said. "Concerned parents, Attorneys General, and others must wonder how a Task Force with a research group - all supposedly devoted to focusing on social network site safety - could fail to review or--at a minimum-- even request such pertinent data."
Aside from adopting user verification technologies, Aristotle takes the position that community notification statutes (such as Megan's Law) should be expanded to include social networks like MySpace where adults and minors interact unsupervised. To date, MySpace has not alerted minors (or parents of minors) who were previously contacted by one or more of the tens of thousands predators known to MySpace.
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"To this end, we want to provide parents a vehicle to learn if they or their children have been contacted by a convicted sex offender on MySpace," said Phillips. "I encourage all concerned parents to visit www.childonlineprotectionservice.com and make use of the online tools to learn how to better protect their children. As predators become more adept at finding vulnerable teens online, we must be more vigilant in protecting the innocent from becoming another preventable statistic."
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