MySpace Guardian provides a false sense of security

Free downloadable toolbar designed to help parents track activity on their children's profiles.

There are plenty of options for parents who want to keep their kids safe on MySpace, not the least of which are good old-fashioned self-education (do you know how to translate "m4d sk1llz?"**) and proactive involvement in learning what kids are up to online. But for those who remain daunted by the idea of online social networking, there's the MySpace Guardian, a free downloadable toolbar that's designed to help parents track activity on their children's profiles.

Unfortunately, there's nothing about the MySpace Guardian that offers genuinely new ways to make site use safer. It does give easier access, via a drop-down menu, to particular areas of MySpace (profile view, comments, inbox) that some less tech-savvy parents might have trouble locating otherwise. (A plus, yes, but nothing that couldn't be done through simple bookmarking.) There's also a search-the-web menu and, somewhat randomly, a Skype menu.

The hallmark of the MySpace Guardian, however, is the Predator Locator, another drop-down menu that provides access to Google maps that chart out the residences of known sexual predators, a photo search, and a "Report a Predator" function. My problem is this: Not only does the Predator Locator have the potential to give rise to a next-generation variety of cruel middle-school pranks ("If you don't invite me to the dance, I'm going to turn you in as a MySpace predator!"), but installing something like this on kids' computers might actually make them less likely to turn to parents if they feel threatened online. If they think they can handle the situation CSI-style rather than telling their parents about it, your average 14-year-olds probably will.

Here's a thought: Why not keep it simple? Get informed, keep up a good dialogue with your kids about online safety, and let the cops do the sleuthing if you need them to. They've been, you know, trained in it.

** Mad skills.

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