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A predator's playground

After recently falling behind Facebook in terms of users and page views, MySpace‘s reputation has taken another hit. This week…

By Alexis Stoymenoff , in Face Value: Social networking and our generation , on February 5, 2009 Tags: , , , , ,

After recently falling behind Facebook in terms of users and page views, MySpace‘s reputation has taken another hit.

This week they released the names of over 90,000 registered sex offenders who had profiles on their website.  Ouch.

They were subpoenaed to disclose this information after a report put out in January by the Internet Safety Technical Task Force, and now they’ve taken action to remove all of these bad guys from their network.

The presence of sexual offenders online – with easy access to photos, video and communication with minors – is something law enforcement officers and children’s advocates have been struggling with for years.  MySpace’s disclosure is just a sobering reminder that this problem is far from being solved.

Other social networks have been under the radar as well, and though the exact numbers have yet to come out, it is expected that Facebook’s sex offender population will be much lower than its competitor’s.

Unlike visitors on MySpace, Facebook users can’t just log on and have access to anyone’s profile page. In most cases all you get to see is a thumbnail photo and a name, unless you are formally accepted as a “friend”.

However, that doesn’t mean Facebook is predator-proof.  Outsiders can still send private messages to people who aren’t their friends, and sometimes users aren’t very careful about who they accept.

It’s also important to note that Facebook’s default privacy settings allow not only your friends to view your profile, but anyone belonging to your “networks“.  This means that if you’re part of the UBC network on Facebook and you haven’t changed your settings, all UBC students, faculty and alumni are able to view your profile.

All this predator talk got me thinking about my own privacy settings.  I never thought too much about it before, knowing that I had to officially accept people to be added to my contact list.  That was enough security for me.

So, I logged in and went into my settings.  Sure enough, everyone at the University of Western Ontario (my alma mater) still had access to my relationship status and my party photos.  Who knew?

There are several other adjustments you can make in your privacy settings, from controlling what information is displayed to certain contacts to allowing external search engines to look up your profile.  Saphos, an international Internet security company, offers users a detailed overview and helpful tips for setting up privacy options.

As an independent, generally web-savvy twenty-something, I’m not overly afraid of perverts stalking me online.  I’m more concerned with my Dad getting an account and checking up on me from across the country.  I’ve declined him as a friend before, but now that I know I can tailor what he sees of my profile, maybe I’ll give him a second chance…not that I have anything to hide.