MySpace developing parental-notification software

"Zephyr" is designed to give parents access to their children's names, ages, and locations as listed on their profiles.

Caroline McCarthy Former Staff writer, CNET News
Caroline McCarthy, a CNET News staff writer, is a downtown Manhattanite happily addicted to social-media tools and restaurant blogs. Her pre-CNET resume includes interning at an IT security firm and brewing cappuccinos.
Caroline McCarthy
2 min read
Under fire from both the U.S. government and parental organizations, MySpace.com has announced that it is creating software to give parents a window into what their children are putting on their online profiles.

Once the monitoring software is finished and distributed, parents can install it on a home computer to see what any MySpace user who logs on from that computer lists as his or her profile name, age and location. It will also track updates made to those profiles. The software doesn't give parents access to the content of the MySpace profiles in question, and the members whose profiles are being monitored will be notified that the software is keeping tabs on them.

The development of the software, which is code-named "Zephyr," was reported in The Wall Street Journal Wednesday morning. There is no word yet on a release date.

Having a profile on the News Corp.-owned MySpace has become a staple for American high school students, and the social-networking service has recently been expanding overseas with international sites in countries like France and Japan. At the same time, MySpace has come under extensive scrutiny for allegedly endangering teenagers' safety by making it easy for them to share extensive personal information over the Internet.

Numerous third-party applications that aim to give parents access to their kids' MySpace activity have emerged over the past year or so, but "Zephyr" is the first monitoring software launched by MySpace itself.

Hemanshu Nigam, MySpace's chief security officer, described "Zephyr" as "an easy-to-use solution designed for parents to easily determine whether their teen has a MySpace profile and (to) validate the age listed in their teen's profile." In a statement, Nigam also asserted that "one of (MySpace's) goals is to empower parents to engage in conversation with their teens about Internet safety."

MySpace will likely face criticism from both sides of the fence: from privacy advocates who claim that "Zephyr" is invasive, and from parents who may complain that it still isn't doing enough. But in Nigam's opinion, the basic information that "Zephyr" will provide--which can give parents insight into whether their children are using fake names, lying about their ages, or giving too much detail about where they live--is vital information, especially with regard to their ages.

"Many of our safety features are built around age and it's important that people honestly reflect their accurate age while on our site," Nigam said. "By enabling parents to 'check' their teen's age, and have conversations, if necessary, with their teens to use the appropriate age, we are creating an even safer community for our users."