IMSafer aims to guard MySpace kids from predators

IMSafer Inc. Wednesday unveiled an online tool that aims to let parents check comments left by and for children visiting MySpace.com's popular online community.

The new tool updates a service unveiled last October that lets parents monitor their children's instant messaging conversations for interactions with sexual predators.

IMSafer's updated language-analysis engine can scan individual MySpace postings for potentially dangerous, threatening or sexually explicit content, the company said. Users can download the tool from the company's Web site, said Brandon Watson, CEO and founder of the company.

Traditional parental control software generally can filter and block Web sites but can't identify possible dangerous interactions on increasingly popular social networking sites such as MySpace, he said. While most sexual solicitations of children still come through instant messaging software, online predators are increasingly using MySpace to initiate contact with potential victims, Watson added.

This growing trend of predators luring children using MySpace into conversations, called "phriending" typically works like this: A sexual predator will note the name of a child's friend based on comments on a MySpace page. The predator will the obtain information on the friend from a second MySpace profile, and use that data gain the trust of the first child and be added to his friends list, Watson said.

"It is inconceivable to a child for the most part that someone would do that because they take things at face value," Watson said. "Kids view their MySpace friends list as their social currency, [an indication of] how popular they are. A kid may have his profile marked as private so his parents can't view it, but a predator could."

IMSafer's language engine flags common terms and jargon that could be dangerous, such as someone asking for a child's phone number or whether his parents are home, Watson said.

He noted that the software is not spyware because it does not log all comments and interactions. Instead, parents are sent a snippet of the comments that have been red-flagged. "We give them enough of the conversation to understand what was going on, and they can decide what action to take," Watson said.

IMSafer has scanned more than 15 million instant messages for parents since it launched in October and is monitoring more than 110,000 different screen names.

The MySpace addition is part of IMSafer Plus, which enables parents to monitor an unlimited number of user names for US$30 per year. The basic IMSafer service for monitoring a single user name on AOL, Yahoo or MSN IM is free.

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