MySpace's Jan. 14 pledge to 49 states' attorneys general to make changes on its social network that will better protect minors was not just a gesture of self-preservation.
The act sets an important precedent for Facebook, Google, and any other Internet company that caters to consumers. Providing more stringent content and personal protection practices is vital to ensure the system is safe so it and others that follow can evolve to become the hub of our Internet experience.
In the latest victory for the AGs, MySpace agreed to develop a task force to institute online identity authentication tools, as well as policies allowing parents to submit their children's e-mail addresses so MySpace can prevent anyone using those addresses from setting up profiles.
There are provisions for abuse reporting, making the default setting private for profiles of 16- and 17-year-olds and creating a closed high school section for users under 18, ostensibly a walled garden within the walled garden.
Clearly, large consumery social networks are the targets for the AGs. MySpace and Facebook have been the virtual playgrounds perpretators roamed to stalk underage users.
These content protection measures won't extend to existing B2B social networks, but it sends a serious message to fledgling social networks (some built with Google's OpenSocial APIs) to make sure they contain more stringent policies: make sure your users are properly protected.
The protection MySpace has "agreed" to provide will take on greater importance over the next several years because if you believe the popular thinking, social networks will become the hub of people's Internet access experiences.
I'm not certain what form this will take, but at some point, we may well be shopping online through our social networks, connecting with Amazon and eBay through MySpace and Facebook.
We will eventually conduct business transactions through our social networks, which, as the Plaxo folks suggest, will be an aggregate of people, family, colleagues and business associates.
Is this so difficult to believe? How often do we hear that someone has stopped using regular e-mail in favor of Facebook, or LinkedIn? Companies such as TalkShoe are adding voice to social networks.
Social networks are getting rich enough to warrant use beyond simple communications.
Every time someone builds an application for Facebook, MySpace, or any of the other sites that enable programmers to build on their platform, he or she is adding another layer of functionality to the network.
Beyond the virtual food fights and digital sheep throwing, developers are creating ways to hold virtual conferences on these social networks. The convergence of virtual reality avatars with social networks is happening now.
What better way to do your banking, online shopping and business deals from your social network, which will become your own personal Yahoo or Google?
We are years away from this, but if vendors start baking in the appropriate layers of security now, it can become a rapid reality.