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MySpace and most states agree on Web safety steps

By Martha Graybow and Michele Gershberg

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Popular online teen hangout MySpace and 49 U.S. state attorneys general said on Monday they had agreed on a broad set of guidelines for protecting youths on the Internet.

MySpace, part of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, agreed to take further steps to ensure safety, including developing an e-mail registry that would allow parents to prohibit their children from creating an online profile for the network, according to the attorneys general.

"This is a great first step toward protecting children and ending the era of the Wild West on the Internet," Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann said at a news conference in Manhattan announcing the agreement.

Home to 110 million users globally, MySpace will also make the default profile setting for 16 and 17-year-olds on its site "private" so they can only be contacted by people they know, making it harder for sexual predators to find them.

MySpace has come under state legal scrutiny in the last two years after some youth members fell prey to adult predators posing as minors.

Dann and other attorneys general praised MySpace for entering the agreement, but said the state officials could decide to pursue further action, including lawsuits if MySpace and other social networking sites do not continue to address their concerns.

"We've been pushing legislation in states across the country ... we've explored litigation," said North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper. "We can still take those actions if we feel it's necessary."

The attorneys general said that a core dispute in their discussions with MySpace surrounded whether there is online identity verification technology available to protect young users, something the state officials said they believe is feasible. A task force will report back and issue a report with its findings on the technology at the end of 2008. Continued...

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