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Prowling for predators on MySpace

Police in Suffolk County, N.Y., recently caught a registered sex offender trolling for underage boys on MySpace, thanks to some code written by former hacker and current Wired editor Kevin Poulsen.

Prowling for predators

Poulsen wrote an automated script that scanned the social networking site for predators, using data taken from the Web site of the Department of Justice's National Sex Offender Registry. Poulsen claims to have found 744 sex offenders with MySpace profiles so far, including 497 who have been registered for sex crimes against children.

MySpace has come under fire for not doing enough to protect children; the company recently announced a safety campaign to help children wise up online. Bloggers wondered if robot cops could be the answer to at least some of the company's problems.

Blog community response:

"Perhaps the best course would be for MySpace to encourage more third parties to develop safety tools, enabling them to alert the authorities. And while MySpace does have its lurking threats, it seems safer to have them on a site like this than on underground chatrooms and messageboards where predators may reside."

"This only works for so long as sex offenders use the names they were arrested under (or under Fox's proposal, it only works if they voluntarily obey the email registry law even as they set out to commit another crime). Presumably, if Fox was continuously combing its registry for known offenders, word would get around and the bad guys would assume aliases."

"Of course, there's nothing illegal about a convicted criminal having a MySpace profile, but previously the site has said it can't keep control over its members. And the fact that offending registers in other countries - such as Britain - aren't available in the same way as those in the US, means it's hardly out of the bounds of imagination to expect that the number of sex offenders active on the site is much greater."
--Guardian Technology Blog