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MySpace is sued over predators

January 19, 2007|From the Associated Press

Four families have sued News Corp. and its MySpace social-networking website after their underage daughters were sexually abused by adults they met on the site, lawyers for the families said Thursday.

The law firms, Barry & Loewy of Austin, Texas, and Arnold & Itkin of Houston, said families from New York, Texas, Pennsylvania and South Carolina filed separate suits Wednesday in Los Angeles Superior Court, alleging negligence, recklessness, fraud and misrepresentation by the companies.

"In our view, MySpace waited entirely too long to attempt to institute meaningful security measures that effectively increase the safety of their underage users," said Jason A. Itkin, an Arnold & Itkin lawyer.

The families are seeking monetary damages "in the millions of dollars," Itkin said.

Critics including parents, school officials and police have been increasingly warning of online predators at sites such as MySpace, where youth-oriented visitors are encouraged to expand their circles of friends using free messaging tools and personal profile pages.

Santa Monica-based MySpace has responded with added educational efforts and partnerships with law enforcement. The company has also placed restrictions on how adults may contact younger users on MySpace, while developing technologies such as one announced Wednesday that would let parents see some aspects of their child's online profile, including the stated age. That tool is expected this summer.

"MySpace serves as an industry leader on Internet safety and we take proactive measures to protect our members," said Hemanshu Nigam, MySpace's chief security officer.

But he said Internet safety was a shared responsibility, requiring users to "apply common sense offline safety lessons in their online experiences and engage in open family dialogue."

The lawyers who filed the latest lawsuits said the plaintiffs included a 15-year-old girl from Texas who was lured to a meeting, drugged and assaulted in 2006 by an adult MySpace user, who is serving a 10-year sentence in Texas after pleading guilty to sexual assault.

The others are a 15-year-old girl from Pennsylvania, a 14-year-old from upstate New York and two South Carolina sisters, ages 14 and 15.

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