Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

MySpace decision emperils Web 2.0

Posted by Richard Koman - February 16, 2007

Across the country, lawmakers are targeting crimes against children for special, perhaps unconstitutional, treatment. Bills are being introduced and passed to require released sex offenders to register their emails and IM names - violation would be a felony; to make parole violations into aggravated felonies; and to outfit sex parolees with GPS tracking devices for 24/7 monitoring. An email registration bill has also been introduced in Congress.

Against this backdrop comes a decision by a federal court in Texas that MySpace cannot be sued for negligence by the family of a girl who was sexually assaulted by a man she met through News Corp's social networking service. The reason? The federal Commuunications Decency Act gives "interactive services" immunity from lawsuits based on user postings and content.

Passed in 1996, the CDA was passed to allow Internet businesses to grow without fear of lawsuits. The family says they will bring suit in state court to pursue the issue. But it's likely that the CDA preempts any state law to the contrary.

The world's changed a lot in 10 years and it's a matter of Internet legend that the Net is filled with sex addicts, perverts and kiddie porn. No matter if the number of MySpace-initiated assaults is tiny, the social sense is that kids are at risk through social networking and corporations like News Corp are profiting.

With that backdrop, how long before Congress looks at the CDA and says: The Internet no longer needs the help of the CDA, which is protecting corporations from being held to account when children are harmed: time to repeal?

Republicans can make it an anti-pervert, pro-family initiative. Democrats can make it an pro-little guy, anti-corporation initiative. Bipartisanship never looked better.

But the CDA is crucial to Web 2.0 and the wealth of startups, to MySpace and Facebook and YouTube and really any business with user-generated content (isn't that every tech business, these days?) So, while no one is Congress has yet suggested a repeal, I think the gathering storm against crimes against children puts the CDA in real danger.

Thoughts?

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