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Monday, July 3, 2006
Anita Ramasastry has a thorough examination of the MySpace case, focusing, in the end, on the feasibility of MySpace doing more.
(See also here, here, here, here, and here.)
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Why shouldn't MySpace voluntarily require age verification by users? It's MySpace's website, server, etc., after all. If MySpace won't take this reasonable step, let them take their chances in the tort system.
Also, what's the problem if age verification or other reasonable precautions force predators "offline"? Predators have hunted their prey offline for centuries. Eliminating an easy click-your-mouse path to prey is a sound first step in combatting the predators.
Posted by: Jake | Jul 3, 2006 2:24:29 PM
The focus of prior discussions on this site (look at the comments on some of the linked-to pieces) is whether it is, in fact, feasible to verify ages in any significant way. It's somewhat doable to prove that you are 18 or up; it is hard to prove that you are under 18. So even if you are 19, if you want to assert that you are 14, it is hard for a content provider to find out the truth.
A question I raised: if it is not feasible to confirm ages with some accuracy, is it perhaps negligent to run a service like MySpace at all? That starts to sound a little like social risk-utility in the products context, where judges are hesitant to conclude that entire categories of otherwise-legal products are all defective, but it's still an interesting question to me.
Posted by: Bill Childs | Jul 3, 2006 3:02:35 PM
Conceding my bias, as the father of several teenagers, I think Prof. Childs is dead on when he suggests that running a "service" like MySpace is negligence per se. (I hope this does not overstate his point.)
MySpace imposes enormous externalities on parents across the nation. Most parents, on the other hand, could do more to control their teenagers' use of MySpace and similar sites. (Perhaps even turning off the phone line/DSL/fiber access at nighttime, but how antediluvian I must sound!). That said, kids nowadays are very adept with computers and avoiding safeguards intended for their own protection. MySpace fills this demand, but now seeks to evade paying the freight.
As to age verification, I can appreciate why it's a lot easier to draw the line at 18 years of age, rather than younger. I'll settle for that -- and in the present state of affairs, tort law probably should as well -- if MySpace or other similar websites can meet that standard.
Posted by: Jake | Jul 3, 2006 5:56:50 PM
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