May 23, 2007

MySpace and sex offender data ruffled some feathers last week when they declined to cooperate with a request from state attorneys general to provide data on sex offenders who use the site. This week, MySpace reversed course and will provide the data after all.

But MySpace was never in the business of protecting sex offenders. What you basically have here is a disagreement over whether federal law allows MySpace to provide the information that the AG's want. They could have gone through different channels to make this easier for MySpace, but instead they chose to pull a political stunt.

That MySpace initially decided not to "cooperate" with the attorneys general is little more than protecting themselves legally. No corporation is going to do something that they know could get them sued. By not going through proper channels, the attorneys general gave MySpace a Hobson's choice: refuse to provide the information and get shredded in the media, or provide the information and get dragged into court.

It is possible that MySpace would win that lawsuit, but I do not blame them for not wanting to risk it. If the attorneys general want the information, and MySpace gets dragged into court, then they should pay for MySpace's attorney fees if they get sued, and should pay the entire judgment should MySpace lose the case. Absent an unbreakable contract laying that out, I do not blame MySpace at all.

Furthermore, even if someone signed up for MySpace using the name of a registered sex offender, how do you know it is actually that person? MySpace prohibits "impostor" profiles, but they are there nonetheless. reports "MySpace supports state and federal legislation requiring sex offenders to register e-mail addresses." This is just plain stupid. Someone could very easily set up 25 free e-mail accounts on Yahoo or Hotmail in one day he wanted to. There is absolutely no way to track how many e-mail addresses someone has. It would make more sense to forbid registered sex offenders from owning a computer at all.

What is unfortunate is that all of this could have been avoided had the attorneys general simply followed proper legal channels in the first place. There is no reason this needed to become a political football. It could have very easily been a simple law enforcement action, but some politicians decided that winning a few more votes is more important than protecting children.