MySpace Hires Child Safety Expert From Microsoft

By Eric Auchard

News Corp. is set on Tuesday to name a security czar to oversee child safety measures on, the popular teen dating and music site that has provoked an outcry among parents who fear they have not done enough to thwart sexual predators.

Hemanshu (Hemu) Nigam, now director of Consumer Security Outreach & Child Safe Computing at Microsoft Corp., will head up safety, education, privacy and law enforcement oversight programs for MySpace and other Fox Web properties.

The appointment is effective May 1, News Corp.'s Fox Interactive Media, the parent of MySpace, said in a statement.

The move is one of several responses MySpace and its owners have taken in recent months to respond to harsh criticism by parent groups, legal authorities and politicians.

Just last week, a U.S. Congressional committee held hearings on potential laws to thwart the sexual exploitation of children online.

MySpace, which began as a music fan site, has caught fire as the most popular online forum for teenagers to hang out and express themselves with peers. Largely a U.S. cultural phenomenon, MySpace now counts 69 million members.

Its success is tied to how it combines together in one place many features otherwise only available separately -- from blogs, to instant messaging, music videos and photo galleries -- powering it to become the second most visited U.S. site.

Nigam brings strong credentials to his new role. He has more than 15 years of experience in online safety, including serving as a Federal prosecutor against Internet child exploitation for the U.S. Department of Justice.

He was also an advisor to a Congressional commission on online child safety, and an advisor to the White House on cyberstalking.

Prior to Microsoft, Nigam was vice president of worldwide Internet enforcement at the Motion Picture Association of America, where he oversaw the global strategy to combat online video piracy for seven major Hollywood studios.

MySpace has implemented a series of measures to protect young users. It limits access to the site to members who are at least 14 and provide special protections to kids under 16. It claims to have deleted more than 250,000 profiles of underage kids since the site's inception.

Over the weekend, MySpace said it was working with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the Advertising Council to create the largest-ever online safety program using nationwide public service advertisements.

Gartner Inc. Internet analyst Allen Weiner, whose teenage daughter is a big fan of MySpace, said the site suffers from what sociologists might call the "busy street corner problem."

"People are going to find nefarious things to do with anything that draws such a huge audience," Weiner said. "I think MySpace is actually doing a pretty decent job in terms of security," the analyst said.

Copyright 2006 Reuters Limited.

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