Thursday, May 24, 2007

Behind the Curtain of the MySpace Legal Drama

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The super-popular MySpace Latest News about MySpace social networking site has been buffeted by a storm of negative press over the actions of several state attorneys general and their recent requests for sex offender information.

The whole mess has unfolded like a bad soap opera -- and it must be particularly baffling for MySpace, because it has invested a significant amount of resources and technological effort to ensure that sex offenders can't use MySpace to lure or harass anyone.

For instance, last year MySpace realized it didn't have a good way of finding and eliminating registered sex offenders from its membership. The company looked for a product but didn't find anything it thought was good enough. So it launched its Sentinel SAFE project with Sentinel Tech Holdings. Because e-mail Email Marketing Software - Free Demo registration legislation has only been enacted in a few states, Sentinel SAFE uses a range of informational factors, aggregated from a maze of state sex offender registries, to identify registered sex offenders and delete their profiles.

MySpace says that the program, conceived in late 2006, was implemented on May 2, 2007, after an extensive period of development and testing.

MySpace Gets Slapped
Then, last week, eight state attorneys general sent MySpace a letter asking the social networking site to turn over the names and addresses of convicted sex offenders with profiles, including details about how many sex offenders MySpace has identified, how many profiles have been removed and what steps the site has taken to purge them. It also requested that law enforcement officials and users who communicated with the offenders be alerted.

This move was particularly puzzling, because MySpace, like any large Internet-based company with subscribers, has worked with attorneys general in the past through normal, legal channels -- namely, through subpoenas.
"Because this is what federal law commands, when you request subscriber information from a Web site or an online provider, you must send a subpoena. It doesn't have to be a court-ordered subpoena; it can be an administrative subpoena, but you have to call it a 'subpoena' to confirm that you have the right to subpoena documents," Ken Dreifach, a partner with the law firm Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal, told TechNewsWorld.
"It's kind of law enforcement's way of saying, 'We have this authority.' And that's all that Congress wanted, but Congress was very, very clear that is has to be a subpoena. When you request information from an eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY) Latest News about eBay, a Yahoo (Nasdaq: YHOO) Latest News about Yahoo, a MySpace, all of which are companies that deal with prosecutors on a daily basis for issues large and small, it is commonly understood that you have to have the word 'subpoena' at the top of the piece of paper."

Tough Spot
While MySpace was already working on developing a means of identifying and removing sex offenders from its service, the attorneys general were asking MySpace to provide information without a subpoena, which is essentially illegal under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act.
"A lot of Web sites and service providers, in their terms of use, attempt to obtain a pre-consent to the release of [user] data, typically upon law enforcement request," Alan L. Friel, an attorney with law firm Kay Scholer, told TechNewsWorld.
"Those of us who craft terms of use, we generally will draft that advanced consent so our clients at least have a position so they can claim it's within their discretion. But that's an issue that's not legally resolved," he added. While MySpace's terms of use may have technically allowed the company to turn over some information, its ultimate legality is still hazy.

Indeed, both the current MySpace Terms & Conditions document and the MySpace Privacy Policy are sufficiently vague to leave MySpace some legal elbow room.

Dangers Remain
Still, there are risks. If MySpace had decided to comply with the original letter from the state AGs -- the one without a subpoena -- the social networking site ran the risk of providing information illegally, which could then get sex offenders off the hook.
"If they turned the data over, and it could be argued that they were coerced or acting as an agent of the government, then in fact a great deal of evidence, everything arising from that, could be suppressed," Dreifach explained. "It is bad practice for companies not to follow procedural law, and it's bad practice for government enforcers to encourage companies not to follow procedural law, because as we all know, from watching "Law & Order," this is how evidence gets suppressed and bad guys get away."

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Why then did state attorneys general, well-versed in legal procedure, not provide a subpoena in the first place?

"They may not have had grounds for a subpoena. To get a subpoena, to get a warrant or court order, for compelling the information, you have to have sufficient grounds -- you can't go on a fishing expedition," Friel noted.

After MySpace refused to comply with the letter, as it believed it was legally bound to refuse, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal took the issue public and published a note on his Attorney General's Office Web site. He asserted that he didn't need a subpoena and called MySpace's refusal "disingenuous" and "inexplicable and inexcusable."

"Legally, MySpace can and must provide this information without a subpoena," he noted. "The vague reference by MySpace to federal privacy laws certainly failed to justify a complete refusal to cooperate -- or insistence on a subpoena for all information. If MySpace wants a subpoena, we will seek one."

Supplying the Paperwork
Why not just obtain the subpoena instead of making the issue public? Is it just political posturing?

Sometimes press releases speak for themselves. North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper, for example, published a press release announcing the request, along with a copy of the letter, which was signed by the attorneys general from Connecticut, Georgia, Idaho, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

There's only one purpose for a press release: to take information to the public at large.
Problem Solved?

After a few days of back-and-forth and at least one long teleconference, MySpace and the attorneys general found a solution: MySpace gets subpoenas and the state AGs will get the data.

Blumenthal, for example, provided a subpoena, and yesterday MySpace announced its plans to comply. The subpoena didn't come from a court, but as Dreifach noted above, administrative subpoenas are acceptable under federal law.
"I have issued this subpoena demanding information from MySpace.com so as to protect the many Connecticut children who are using this Web site," said Department of Consumer Protection Commissioner Jerry Farrell Jr., who issued the subpoena at Blumenthal's request. "However, while this information about sex offenders from MySpace will be helpful, it is not a substitute for parents being vigilant about who their children are dealing with online."
As for MySpace, the company has begun work with the attorneys general who drafted the non-subpoena letter. Their goal is to create a process to expedite the delivery of useful information to attorneys general in their pursuit of any individuals who are breaking the law, MySpace said. The system Manage remotely with one interface -- the HP ProLiant DL360 G5 server. will provide data to all 50 states that request it through proper channels.
"We have received a dozen requests for information and hope to receive more so we can expeditiously get this information into the hands of law enforcement," Mike Angus, MySpace's executive vice president and general counsel, told TechNewsWorld.


Wednesday, May 23, 2007


A Florida-based Web site that invites women to warn others about men they've dated cannot be sued in a Pennsylvania court by an attorney who said its postings falsely claimed he was unfaithful and had sexually transmitted diseases.

Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge R. Stanton Wettick Jr. said he had no jurisdiction over the lawsuit Todd Hollis filed last June against DontDateHimGirl.com and its creator, Tasha C. Cunningham, 34, of Miami.

Hollis, of Pittsburgh, claimed Cunningham's site is liable because it solicits negative comments but does not screen them for truthfulness. Hollis also is suing those who posted comments that questioned his sexuality and claimed he tried to dodge paying child support.

Cunningham and her attorneys say a 1996 federal law shields Web sites from such lawsuits when they merely transmit user postings.

The ruling, issued last week, does not address Hollis' still-pending claims against women who posted the messages. One of the women has denied making any posts. Another acknowledged posting comments but denied damaging his reputation.

Hollis said he has not decided whether to sue the Web site again in another venue.

Cunningham's date-dissing site has tripled in size since the lawsuit was filed, with 27,000 profiles that she markets as "a new cost-effective weapon in the war on cheating men." Cunningham works full-time on the site and is developing others, including a Spanish-language version that will launch in June.


Thursday, May 17, 2007

Is a Virtual Affair Real-World infidelity?

Or are in-game chats and animated sex just harmless experiments?
By Kristin Kalning

Sam had met someone, and it was getting serious.

It started out as a friendship, as many relationships do. But gradually Sam's feelings for Kat, a beautiful, smart and confident woman, had turned romantic.

Hang on — there’s a catch. Sam and Kat met in the virtual world Second Life. And although they shared all kinds of intimacies in Second Life, the real people have never laid eyes on each other.

That didn’t seem to matter to Sam. He fell pretty hard for his avatar sweetie. They bonded intellectually, emotionally, and yes, thanks to Second Life animations, even physically.

Here’s where it gets complicated. Unlike his avatar, which is female, in real life, Sam is a man. A married man. And the person behind the blonde, curvaceous Kat? Married. And, quite possibly, a man, too.

(As you might imagine, some people interviewed for this story did not want to reveal their full names. Some gave us their avatar names, while others went with pseudonyms.)

Sam knew from the outset that he had no intention of ever meeting Kat in real life. So although he acknowledges feeing some guilt, he didn’t see the online affair as being as damaging as a real one.
“With Second Life, there wasn't the fear of a real-life physical attachment,” he says. “The fear of someone calling me up at home.”
For many folks, the arms-length quality of in-game romance is what separates a (fairly) harmless experiment from actual infidelity. If these intimacies, no matter how personal, never translate into a real-world meeting or real-life sex, can it be considered cheating?

The majority of people who responded to the MSNBC.com/iVillage Lust, Love and Loyalty survey think it can — although that characterization tends to skew along gender lines.

Sending a sexually flirtatious e-mail to a co-worker? Just over half of men — 53 percent — think that’s cheating, as compared with 73 percent of women. Ratchet that up to online talk or “Webcamming,” and the cheating meter ticks up slightly: 57 percent of men think that’s a no-no, while 77 percent of women do.

Even Sam wasn’t sure how to term his relationship. After all, he was role-playing.
“It’s a 3-D avatar having sex with another 3-D avatar,” says Wagner James Au, author of the Second Life blog New World Notes. “What looks like a hot blonde babe could be a 60 year-old man in Milwaukee.”
But at some point, Sam’s in-world relationship with Kat began to intrude on his real life. A recent family vacation was punctuated by furtive Second Life meetings with his avatar girlfriend.
“I dreamed up any excuse I could with my family to tell them I needed to get online for a few minutes here and there,” he says. “It was pathetic.
That’s where the lines get blurry, says P. Shavaun Scott, a marriage and family therapist from San Luis Obispo, Calif.
“If people are getting their needs for love, attention, intimacy, companionship and sex from somewhere else, I think it’s cheating,” she says. “And, if they’re keeping their relationship a secret from their real-life partner.”
When Kat’s real-life spouse began getting suspicious, things between the Second Life couple began to deteriorate. Sam says Kat became paranoid. She started having outburts.

“She no longer became the funny, excited and refreshing girl I had fallen for,” he says.

There was a breakup, a half-hearted reconciliation and a final breakup. What Sam didn’t expect, he says, is how much the virtual breakup would affect him.
“My feelings for Kat were no different in many ways than what happens in a real-life relationship,” he says. “All the way down to a breakup.”

“It’s not the sex, it’s the emotional intimacy,” says Au. “You’re online at 2 a.m. getting very personal and talking about stuff that you should only be talking about with your boyfriend, girlfriend or whatever.

Some folks use virtual relationships as a way to experiment. The excitement is what initially drew Sam to hook up with Kat. And plenty of people are interested in the sex aspect of the hookups. “It’s a more interactive form of masturbation,” says Au. “And everyone’s going to do that on occasion.”
Plenty of people, though, initiate in-game romances because they’re seeking something that’s lacking in their real-life relationship.

Amanda, 20, started up a friendship with someone she met in “World of Warcraft.” Her real-life relationship was one that she terms as “moderately abusive,” and her real-life boyfriend as “very controlling.” Her in-game guy, Joel, was much nicer. He spent hours teaching her how to play the game. They went on raids together. In-game chat graduated to AIM chat. Then long telephone conversations.

“You talk about your day, your dreams, that kind of thing.” she says. “I couldn’t get that from my real-life boyfriend.”

Max, 39, isn’t sure what drove his soon-to-be-ex-wife to have a relationship in Second Life. He says she refused to talk about it, and if he asked questions, she’d just hop online and freeze him out.
“I thought she was going through a depression and she’d get bored and move on with life,” he says. “But she kept getting deeper and deeper.”
Within six months of signing up for Second Life, Max’s wife was spending up to eight hours a day online — and even more on the weekends. She and her in-world boyfriend were in constant contact — even when they weren’t in-world. Max says he found out later that his wife and her avatar boyfriend were having drinks together — in his house — via Web cam.

Max went on Google and started doing some detective work. To his amazement, he learned that his wife had married her in-world boyfriend in Second Life.

“I had my dad looking over my shoulder at the stuff I was finding,” he says. “Just so I could ask him ‘Am I crazy? Am I really seeing this?’

Max ended up pulling the Internet connection out of the wall, and he says his wife started trashing the house. The end came, says Max, when she threw a punch.

“I’m 6 foot, 200 pounds,” he says. “When she took a swing, I said, ‘no, we’re not going past this point.’” The two are currently finalizing divorce proceedings.

Although Max’s wife did end up meeting her virtual boyfriend in the real world, that often isn’t the case with virtual relationships. Sarah had a plane ticket bought and plans to meet her virtual partner, Martin — but she canceled her trip.
“One day I had the realization that I didn’t really want that guy,” she says. “What I wanted was for my husband to treat me like that guy.
Sarah and her husband split up, and have since divorced. But Sarah credits Second Life with showing her what she wanted from a partner — attention, affection and romance. She gets all that from her current real-life boyfriend — a guy Sarah says she’ll probably marry.

And even though Sarah’s boyfriend didn’t ask her to, she ended her Second Life relationship last year. As a result, she doesn’t go in-world that much anymore.

“I decided that I didn’t want to partition my love,” she says. “I just wanted to have one person to call ‘sweetheart.’”


Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Thousands of sex offenders discovered on MySpace

(If you think for one minute this is limited to teens & kids being targeted or only "known" sex offenders, you are sadly mistaken. - Fighter)

By Scott Malone

Thousands of convicted sex offenders have registered for profiles on social networking Web site MySpace, posing a risk to children who are among the site's most avid users, eight U.S. attorneys general said on Monday.

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and counterparts in seven states called on the company, owned by media tycoon Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., to hand over the offenders' names and addresses.

Sources told the attorneys general that MySpace had discovered thousands of sex offenders on its site in an internal investigation, Blumenthal said. He did not give the identity of the sources.
"Our objective is to assure that these convicted sex offenders are removed from this site and other social networking sites," Blumenthal said by telephone after holding a news conference in Hartford, Connecticut.
"The information about convicted sex offenders on MySpace is simply more evidence that additional measures such as age verification are necessary to protect children," he said.
About 100 million people worldwide use the fast-growing MySpace service.

Children's advocates say they fear that young teens who use MySpace, Facebook and other such sites to socialize fail to grasp the risks involved in meeting people over the Internet.
"People should be notified if these offenders have been in touch with them or their children," said Judi Westberg-Warren, president of Web Wise Kids, a California-based nonprofit Internet safety organization.
In January, the families of five teenage girls who were sexually assaulted by people met through MySpace sued News Corp., charging negligence and fraud.

U.S. lawmakers are considering making it a crime for anyone over 18 to misrepresent their age for the purpose of luring a minor over the Internet for illegal sexual contact.

One concrete step MySpace and other social-networking sites could take to improve the safety of young people would be to verify the ages of their members, Westberg-Warren said.
"This is not just about MySpace, this is about all social networking," she said. "The kids can go from MySpace to another social networking site. This needs to be, in general, something that all social networking sites are working with. MySpace officials could not provide immediate comment."
The attorneys general of Georgia, Idaho, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Mississippi and New Hampshire joined Connecticut in signing a letter to the company asking it to turn over information.

They also asked MySpace, which has come under criticism for not doing enough to protect young people using the site from adult sexual predators who pose as teens, if the profiles in question have been removed from the site.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007



Muslim men in Australia are trawling "marriage websites" looking for second wives in what Immigration officials say is a growing illegal trade.

And Muslim leaders have warned that men who take second wives from overseas face jail or deportation.

A Sunday Herald Sun investigation has found Muslim men are using the internet to attract second wives with promises of financial security.

Immigration officials are investigating a growing number of second marriages and say anyone found to have committed bigamy will be prosecuted.

"Muslims are required to follow the law of the land and since the law of Australia prohibits a second marriage, Islamic law will also prohibit it," Islamic Council of Australia spokesman Mohamad Abdalla said.

Victorian Women's Affairs Minister Mary Delahunty said websites that depicted women as chattels were a disgrace.

"Muslim women must be protected by Australian laws," Ms Delahunty said.

Australian men are among thousands who log on to matrimonial sites such as muslimunions.com and qiran.com to find a spouse.

The Sunday Herald Sun investigation identified 77 married men in Australia who were looking for a second wife.

A reporter registered on the sites, posing as a young Muslim woman from Pakistan, and was able to search through the profiles of potential husbands.

The men, aged between 18 and 60, promised their brides houses and financial security provided they accept male leadership and wear a hijab after the wedding...