MySpace has been stepping up its efforts lately to mollify the concerns of politicians that its site is so dangerous for kids. It's debatable whether its actions will actually make things any safer for kids online, but that's less important than getting the politicians off its back. It announced today its latest move to protect the children by providing software parents can install on computers in their homes to record information about any MySpace account that's logged on to from them. It records the username, and the age and hometown associated with it. While the software's a little smarter than most efforts like this, it's not clear if it's really any more useful. Kids repeatedly prove themselves adept at covering their tracks online and circumventing filters and blocks, and if they can't, they'll just move off of MySpace to some other site. The thing is, MySpace doesn't really care about that -- it's just trying to keep a bunch of state attorneys general off its back, since they're threatening to sue if it doesn't raise its minimum age for members to 16, and start verifying their ages. Never mind that it's awfully hard to verify the age of people under 18, or rather onerous to expect a company to do so for all users when they're not trafficking in goods or services with legislated age limits (such as tobacco, alcohol and porn). Let's focus on a couple of other things. First, these safety concerns are slightly ridiculous. Second, any such restrictions are useless. Slapping age limits on MySpace, should they be effective (which they won't), will just send users elsewhere online to someplace that doesn't care how old they are. The underlying problem isn't specific to MySpace or any other individual site. Clamping down on MySpace, or whatever is the latest popular site, won't help solve the underlying issues at all; it's just squeezing a balloon. Of course, what's the politicians' solution to that? Ban 'em all.
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