Martin McKeay

Online predatation

By Martin McKeay
October 17, 2006 10:38 AM EDT
I have two young children and the thought of an online predator stalking them send chills through my bones.  It's bad enough that we have to be wary of people who have physical proximity to our children, but knowing that they're no more than 150 milliseconds from every predator on the planet is frightening.  So when I see someone who's actually taking steps to hunt down some of these guys, I have to applaud, until I realize how many more of them there are out there.

Kevin Poulsen wrote what he calls "1000 lines of computer code" that compared the names of known sex offenders to the names being used on MySpace.  His code turned up a number of hits five months ago and he's spent much of his time since then working with the New York police to hunt down one of these offenders to gather his story.  They got their man, but only for a very short amount of time, 90 days, due to changes in local laws.  Which means the predator will be out again in the very near future, if he isn't out already.

I can only hope Kevin shared his script with the New York police and that it sees wide distribution.  A simple step like comparing the names of known offenders to MySpace names will only catch the stupid criminals who use their real names, but at least it's a start.  MySpace is waiting on a law that will force sex offenders to register their email addresses, but I don't believe that will slow them down for more than the time it takes to get a new Hotmail account.  There are enormous legal implications for MySpace to do the same thing Poulsen did, and I'm not sure they should, but I do believe the police should use the code he created or make one of their own.

I don't think MySpace is evil, and I won't think whatever is in vogue when my kids are in their teens is evil either.  But any tool can be used by evil people and I plan on protecting my children by explaining to them the dangers on the Internet.  For now, I have a proxy in place and block offensive sites, but I hope I can teach them well enough to know the signs of a predator by the time their teens.

For more information, check out the FBI's "A Parent's Guide to Internet Safety" or Microsoft's "Online predators: What you can do to minimize the risk".  But most of all, talk to your kids.