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Proof of age required for social sites?

Kai Ryssdal Aug 22, 2007
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Proof of age required for social sites?

Kai Ryssdal Aug 22, 2007
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TEXT OF INTERVIEW

KAI RYSSDAL: This one escaped our notice somehow, although we probably should have been looking for it. . . . Playboy magazine has decided to get in on the social networking business. Playboy U, it’s called. Open to college students only. No nudity, thank you, but some very adult content all the same. The company’s hoping to steer clear of the problems other networking sites have had. Minors getting acces they shouldn’t get and predators knowing it. States are trying to force sites like Myspace and Facebook to come up with ways to verify the ages of their members and ways to figure out who’s a kid and who’s a parent.

We’ve called Victoria Barret at Forbes magazine to figure out what that might do to bottom lines. Good to have you with us.

VICTORIA BARRET: Thank you. Glad to be here.

RYSSDAL: Will these parental controls be expensive for Facebook and MySpace and the other networking sites?

BARRET: Well, expense is almost a secondary issue. The real issue is how do we do this in any sort of effective way. If you really want to introduce identity, you have to somehow bridge the gap between the computer and the person who’s using it. And that is incredibly difficult, and the expense for this to be done really thoroughly would be very high. Because essentially you’d have to have some kind of biometric information — a finger scan, an iris scan. Not only do I think that’s not very feasible but it would be very expensive.

RYSSDAL: Surely, though, some engineer up there where you are in Silicon Valley, if we threw enough money at them, would be able to plug something in that would make business sense for Rupert Murdoch and MySpace and all the others.

BARRET: Well, it depends if there’s a legal action where they’re forced to do this, right? The problem with the Web, there’s really no such thing as identity on the Web. We don’t know who people are. Your credit card can be a form of identity but kids under 18 don’t typically have credit cards. Again, you could create some sort of hardware system that does that, but it’s really not in Rupert Murdoch’s interest to do so unless he’s forced to by the government.

RYSSDAL: And, of course, MySpace is not about to make it a requirement of admission that you pay $80 for a biometric scanner to have next to your computer, right?

BARRET: I think your instincts are right on that one, yes.

RYSSDAL: So, you know, not to keep picking on MySpace, but what the heck . . . Rupert Murdoch spent 500-something-million-dollars to buy MySpace. Do you think a little part of him now is saying maybe this is more trouble than it’s worth?

BARRET: The legal troubles are certainly a pain, but I have heard that MySpace is on track to do a billion in revenues this year and is profitable. So, I have a feeling he’s still pretty good on this deal.

RYSSDAL: Do you think advertisers are worried at all about their involvement with social networking sites?

BARRET: There’s a potential for a backlash, right? When MySpace announced that they had found 29,000 registered sex offenders on the site, I thought, “Gee, if I was Proctor & Gamble, would that make me a little bit leary?” If this becomes an even bigger story, there is a potential that advertisers would get a little bit nervous.

RYSSDAL: Victoria Barret is an associate editor at Forbes magazine up in Silicon Valley. Victoria, thanks a lot for your time.

BARRET: Thank you.

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