ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.
MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
If you've never heard of MySpace.com, just ask a teenager and make sure you're not short on time. MySpace is a social-networking website where members create online profiles, complete with pictures, music and often the most intimate details about their lives. For the site's 68 million members, MySpace is a huge online playground, a place to meet friends and raise their cool quotient. But the site also worries parents and school officials who say it's a haven for child molesters and predators who can misuse personal information. To counter those rising concerns, MySpace has hired a former Justice Department prosecutor to patrol the site and educate its users.
Chris Gaither has been covering the story for The Los Angeles Times. He joins us now. Chris, beginning in May, that former prosecutor will essentially become the new sheriff at MySpace. Who is he, and what are his marching orders?
CHRIS GAITHER: Hemanshu Nigam is a very well-respected protector of children. He comes to MySpace most recently from Microsoft, where he oversaw security and safety for users of Microsoft's MSN service. And before that, he had worked for the Justice Department where he prosecuted child pornography cases, child predator cases and other child pornography trafficking cases. And so he comes with a long pedigree.
NORRIS: So in this case, how will he actually screen out predators without invading the privacy of all those users or members at MySpace?
GAITHER: That's, I think, the biggest question that everyone is wondering. MySpace is now part of News Corporation, which is a media giant. And as a result, the site really needs to try to walk this delicate line. On one hand, it needs to make the space safe for its members. It's gotten a lot of bad publicity recently where there've been concerns that members have had their security compromised. But, on the other hand, MySpace needs to make sure that it keeps the site cool enough for users to stick around. It has currently about 69 million users, but they're very fickle. They'll be willing to leave if it ends up becoming too corporate.
NORRIS: You noted that MySpace has garnered quite a bit of bad publicity. Are some of those concerns based on fact? Have there actually been cases where predators have contacted children through MySpace or where piracy thieves have misused information that was posted?
GAITHER: There have been. In Los Angeles County, they're tracking about 10 or 12 cases that might be related to MySpace, in which they're trying to contact children inappropriately. But it's also hard to know where the fact ends and the hype begins. Sometimes, things get labeled as a MySpace incident when there's really only a tangential relationship to MySpace.
So MySpace is trying to combat some of the publicity backlash right now, which is, I think, an important reason, or one of the key reasons why they decided to make this hire. It's their first chief security officer.
NORRIS: Their first chief security officer. That's curious in itself. Isn't that standard protocol, for these social-networking sites to have a security officer from the jumpstart?
GAITHER: It is standard protocol for the big Internet companies to have chief security officers. But MySpace has really grown so quickly over the past year that it's outstripped the company's ability to keep up with all that growth. And one of the things that has suffered, to some extent, is the security issue. They have spread out the job of protecting children among several executives in the company and they said, now that we are in the big leagues of Internet companies, we need to make sure we follow the same practices and really consolidate the role. MySpace is actually among the most popular sites on the Internet. It's really come out of nowhere. But in terms of the number of pages viewed, it's number two behind only Yahoo!.
NORRIS: Among the most popular but not the only social-networking site out there. Is this the kiss of death for MySpace? Is it, knowing that, you know, kids would say, God, now there's a narc in the system. Are they going to look elsewhere? Is MySpace going to be so seven weeks ago?
GAITHER: MySpace executives say that that is not going to happen. They say that having a safe site and having a cool site that lots of people enjoy are not mutually exclusive ideas. But at the same time, people who use social- networking sites have proven to be very fickle in the past. Friendster was the most popular social-networking site for several years, and it really just got jumped by MySpace and next thing you know, Friendster is an also-ran and MySpace is among the Internet giants.
NORRIS: Well, Chris, thanks so much for talking to us.
GAITHER: It was my pleasure.
NORRIS: Chris Gaither is a reporter for The Los Angeles Times.