By ALEX VEIGA, AP Business Writer
Along with ads for bottled water and iTunes, a new campaign has begun appearing on the online social networking hub MySpace.com.
"1 in 5 kids online is sexually solicited. Online predators know what they're doing. Do you?" read the public service ads that began running Monday.
A division of News Corp., MySpace enables computer users to meet any of more than 60 million members. Users post searchable profiles that can include photos of themselves and such details as where they live and what music they like.
But the Web site's features and popularity with teens have raised concerns with authorities nationwide. There have been scattered accounts of sexual predators targeting minors they met through the site.
The spots, which computer users can see on MySpace in the form of banner ads, were also slated to begin running on a host of News Corp. outlets, including other Fox Interactive Media Web sites, the 28 Fox Networks Group broadcast networks, Fox All Access radio and the New York Post.
They are part of a campaign launched two years ago by the Ad Council and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.
Meanwhile, MySpace announced Tuesday that it has hired a Microsoft Corp. executive to oversee safety, education, privacy and law enforcement affairs, effective May 1.
Hemanshu Nigam currently serves as a director responsible for driving Microsoft's consumer security outreach and child safe computing strategies. He was previously a federal prosecutor who specialized in online child exploitation cases.
The new ad campaign warns parents and teens that sexual predators are increasingly using the veil of anonymity provided by online chat rooms, forums and social networking sites to target minors.
"One of the things we're trying to persuade kids to do is not to give out personal details online, don't advertise where they are and who they are," said Ernie Allen, president of the Alexandria, Va.-based National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. "The person with whom they may be interacting may not be who they say they are."
Some 22 percent of users are registered as under 18, according to MySpace.
The site forbids minors 13 and under from joining and provides special protections for those 14 and 15 -- only those on their friends' list can view their profiles.
The company uses a computer program that analyzes user profiles and flags members likely to be under 14. Hundreds of thousands of flagged profiles have been deleted, the company has said.
Still, children regularly lie about their age to get around those restrictions.
Last month, two men were arrested in what prosecutors said were the first federal sex charges involving MySpace. Two Connecticut girls involved in that case were 11 and 14, the FBI said.
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