Wednesday, January 17, 2007


Culture Watch

The cultural development of the day: MySpace announces it will be offering free monitoring software to parents. The Wall Street Journal has a detailed take on the teen-tottering news.

One has to ask, is this new feature designed to actually make kids safer -- or just make parents feel better? We shall see.

The more immediate and politically salient question is, will this step be enough to stave off government-mandated restrictions? As the Journal reports:
The stakes are high for News Corp., which bought MySpace in 2005 for $650 million, back when it had 17 million monthly unique visitors and very little revenue. Since then MySpace has rocketed to 60 million monthly users in the U.S., surpassed Yahoo as the No. 1 U.S. Web site in terms of page views, and is expected to generate nearly $500 million in revenues this year.

But a group of 33 state attorneys general led by Connecticut's Richard Blumenthal are investigating taking legal action against MySpace if it doesn't raise the age limit to join the site to 16 (from 14 currently) and begin verifying MySpace members' ages against public databases.

A lawsuit by the attorneys general could cost MySpace tens of millions of dollars in fees and generate reams of negative publicity, at a time when major advertisers are just overcoming their concerns about the site.

This informational/generational tussle bears watching for many reasons -- the rising level of parental unease about the dangers to kids lurking online, the reach of MySpace and its status as a bellwhether Internet brand, the involvement of a corporate giant like News Corp in the negotiations, and the political and technological implications for the rest of the Net.

Having been involved in a few of these fights, I suspect that MySpace's opening bid will be rejected by the AGs, and that News Corp. will be coming back with another, tougher offer of self-regulation in the not too distant future. So stay tuned.

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