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MySpace.com has found more than 29,000 registered sex offenders with profiles on the popular social networking Web site - more than four times the number cited by the company two months ago, officials in two states Tuesday.
North Carolina's Roy Cooper is one of several attorneys general who recently demanded the News Corp.-owned Web site provide data on how many registered sex offenders were using the popular social networking site, along with information about where they live.
After initially withholding the information, citing federal privacy laws, MySpace began sharing the information in May after the states filed formal legal requests.
At the time, MySpace said it had already used a database it helped create to remove about 7,000 profiles of sex offenders, out of a total of about 180 million profiles on the site.
Cooper's office said Tuesday, however, that now the figure has risen past 29,000.
"I'm absolutely astonished and appalled because the number has grown so exponentially over so short of time with no explanation," said Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who also had pressed the company earlier for sex offender data.
MySpace declined to comment on the figure, focusing instead on its efforts to clean up its profile rolls.
"We're pleased that we've successfully identified and removed registered sex offenders from our site and hope that other social networking sites follow our lead," MySpace chief security officer Hemanshu Nigam said in a prepared statement.
Cooper is pushing for a state law that would require children to receive parental permission before creating social networking profiles, and require the Web sites to verify the parents' identity and age. For example, social networking sites would have to compare information provided by a parent with commercial databases. Sites could also force parents to submit credit cards or printed forms.
Cooper is working with law enforcement officials in other states in pressuring MySpace to use age and identity verification methods voluntarily. Based on media reports, Cooper's office found more than 100 criminal incidents this year of adults using MySpace to prey or attempt to prey on children.
Most recently, a Virginia man pleaded guilty Monday to kidnapping and soliciting a 14-year old girl he met on MySpace.
"All we're doing is giving parents the right to make a choice whether their children can go online," Cooper told a state House committee considering the bill on parental involvement and verification. He said the measure would lead to "fewer children at risk, because there will be fewer children on those Web sites."
Advocates for Internet companies and privacy issues testified against the proposed restrictions, saying the broad parental verification standards would be found unconstitutional because they prohibit free speech or impede interstate commerce. The experts who testified also said Cooper's idea isn't foolproof, because children could fabricate their parents' information and purported consent.
The parental verification requirement "makes promises to consumers that cannot be kept. It is dangerous language," said Emily Hackett, executive director of the Washington-based Internet Alliance, whose clients include Time Warner Inc.'s AOL, Yahoo Inc. (Nasdaq:YHOO - news)/span>. and VeriSign Inc. "There is no way to eyeball a user."
The bill has already passed the North Carolina Senate. Now it goes to a House subcommittee for more consideration.
State Sen. Walter Dalton, a Democrat who is a primary sponsor of the bill, acknowledged that it won't stop all sexual predators from getting on social networking sites. But he said it addresses a problem that shouldn't be ignored, Dalton said.
"There is obviously a compelling state interest to protect our children from sexual predators," he said.