MySpace to offer spyware for parents

Following continuing pressure from politicians (and parts of the media), MySpace is planning to offer parents the chance to download software which will monitor aspects of their children's activities on the social networking site.

Following continuing pressure from politicians (and parts of the media), MySpace is planning to offer parents the chance to download software which will monitor aspects of their children's activities on the social networking site.

The Wall Street Journal reports:

Parents who install the monitoring software on their home computers would be able to find out what name, age and location their children are using to represent themselves on MySpace. The software doesn't enable parents to read their child's e-mail or see the child's profile page and children would be alerted that their information was being shared. The program would continue to send updates about changes in the child's name, age and location, even when the child logs on from other computers. 

From a business point of view, the move appears to be a highly risky one. The young users of social networking sites are notorious for their lack of loyalty -- and history suggests that a change like this could tempt many to abandon MySpace for the 'next cool thing'.

So why is News Corp (owners of MySpace) going down this road?

...a group of 33 state attorneys general led by Connecticut's Richard Blumenthal are investigating taking legal action against MySpace if it doesn't raise the age limit to join the site to 16 (from 14 currently) and begin verifying MySpace members' ages against public databases.

A lawsuit by the attorneys general could cost MySpace tens of millions of dollars in fees and generate reams of negative publicity, at a time when major advertisers are just overcoming their concerns about the site.

Codenamed 'Zephyr', the software that will be offered to parents effectively puts the burden of age verification firmly into their hands. It's common for young users of MySpace to lie about their age, and by making this transparent to parents - MySpace argues that it forces the parent and child to discuss safe use of the site.

It also of course raises big privacy issues. 'Zephyr' has been offered to other social networks such as Facebook and Xanga, who balked because it would violate their terms and conditions.

Update: More discussion over at Digg and Slashdot 

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