Don’t Blame the Internet

Here’s something to make the troglodytes on the Today programme choke on their muesli.

Last year, after the social-networking site MySpace found that its members included some 29,000 registered sex offenders, the nation’s top state prosecutors demanded a technological fix, asking that the industry “explore and develop age and identity verification tools for social networking web sites”. But a new study concludes that such technologies are unlikely to thwart anonymous predators and that the threat facing children online is no worse than it is in the real world.

“Our review found too little evidence that any given technology or set of technologies, on their own, will improve safety for minors online to any significant degree”, says the report, written by the Internet Safety Technical Task Force, a group of 29 businesses, nonprofit organizations, academic groups, and technology companies that conducted the investigation with the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, at the request of 49 state attorneys general. “Moreover, the Internet itself, the ways in which minors use it, and the communities in which they participate, all change constantly, and the available technologies are quickly evolving.”

While no single age-verification solution can solve the Internet’s problems, tools are available to those who choose to use them, and social-networking sites cooperate with law enforcement and actively root out reported problems, says John Palfrey, a Harvard law professor who led the effort. Some 40 technologies are already on the market, including age-verification products and Web filtering and blocking programs.