Social Enterprise

MySpace labels innocent woman as sex offender


Sex offenders and the databases that track them are big business these days, but there are downsides. MySpace's recent purge of people erroneously identified by Sentinel Tech Holding Corporation's software included at least one person, a student at the University of Colorado, whose worst offense was reckless driving over a decade ago. The truly baffling part of the story is the time it took for her to be cleared of the accusation.

Read the ABC News report.

MySpace will also provide information about sex offenders to the attorneys general of all 50 states, reversing its position at the threat of subpoenas. The social networking giant acted quickly after a Wired survey that found over 700 registered sex offenders on MySpace.

Read the Wired blog post.

Read the Information Week article.

Read the CNET article.

If this issue has not raised itself at your job, it soon will. I work in education, and we have already had requests to investigate sex offender database systems. If your company has a daycare, you will soon be asked to do the same. As a father, I totally understand parents' desires to keep their children safe, but as an IT professional, I have a responsibility to make sure that there is a reasonable appeals process when I implement such a package. We should not deny education to someone who is wrongly flagged by a third party, so in my job we must be especially vigilant.

What will you do once a salesman convinces your administration that you should subscribe to a sex offender database? Should that be something that is handled by HR or IT? What can be done to minimize or eliminate false positives, and how do we determine if someone is dangerous when they are flagged? Join the discussion.

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280 comments
dragonladyleanne
dragonladyleanne

As a teacher, while I respect the desire to protect children, I empathize and am concerned with Jessica's false labeling as a sex offender. In my state, (and her "label" was shared with her state's attorney) such labeling WILL lose anyone so labeled a job with a school district - not just teaching, but ANY job, even janitorial. BTW, the ABC photo caption WAS NOT completely correct English; it was what is known as a misplaced modifier. A better caption would have been, "Jessica Davis, shown here with her fianc?e, was labeled a sex offender . . ."

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Since being labeled as a sex offender in today's world can ruin a life, any company providing such a database should be held to a much higher standard than was demonstrated here. - Are Sentinel and MySpace prepared to deal with the legal issues resulting from their conduct? - Is Sentinel planning on improving their screening process? According to the ABC article, John Cardillo, the owner of Sentinel said "It was so close. It was one of those rare instances where there was nothing else we could have done but flag her. If we get an offender and I'm looking at a date of birth that's two days off, we're going to assume were dealing with the offender." This man's business can potentially destroy people's lives and he's talking about [b]close[/b] and [b]assume[/b]? I'm not in favor of lawsuits in general, but I certainly hope Miss Davis chooses to take this one to the legal limit.

michael.tindall
michael.tindall

While it offends our collective sense of justice that this woman was mislabelled as a sex offender, I'm sure it comes as NO surprise to ANY of us that there wasn't at least ONE error...I think this may be the first online shakedown of its type for a large online vendor, no there is likely NO established method of handling situations like this....but MySpace CERTAINLY could have handled that better...if only by being more receptive to her appeal, and caching her profile during some type of interim period, while the appeal was being settled. This brings up an important issue though... What about a person or company's right to conduct its (legal) business as it sees fit? Just because this person was mislabelled, DOESN'T mean that she is legally entitled to be served by a private business. A steakhouse recently ejected OJ Simpson, though he was NOT convicted of murder...and nightclubs can (and do) refuse service simply because a given patron doesn't LOOK like they would fit in, REGARDLESS of how much they want to, and wish they did. IT BECOMES THE BUSINESS' PROBLEM AS TO HOW *THEY* CHOOSE TO (LEGALLY) ENFORCE THEIR OWN POLICIES, and ANYONE can be sued FOR ANY REASON by pretty much ANYBODY. This being the case, perhaps we should rethink how background and confidential info are handled. While criminal records are a matter of public record, and can be viewed online by ANYONE, a consumer is granted SWEEPING protections (admittedly, of varying effectiveness) in regards to their credit history and the use of Confidential Individually Identifiable Information, under threat of DRACONIAN punishment for even the slightest infraction...yet CIII is required to verify the REAL identity of the supposed criminals whose backgrounds are being checked! If people had a *SECOND* ID number based on a hash, not unlike a Public Encryption Key, which could identify them as a match (or not) to a given identity, but which was of NO real use EXCEPT to verify other records, there might be a way to reconcile public's right to protection, the individual's right to privacy, and our society's Freedom Of Information.

darkmoonman
darkmoonman

I concur, and I hope she sues them until their eyeballs bleed.

deepsand
deepsand

Apparently Mr. Cardillo knows little of erro types & their likelihoods; or, he's just taking the easy way out in an attempt to cover his own ass. The most common types of errors are those of transposition & transcription. For numerical data, the former yields a error value that is a multiple of 9. The latter, where keyboard input is used, result in an error value that is either +/- 1 or +/- 3. Mr. Cardillo may see the value "2" in the above, but he'd be hard pressed to find another who does.

TonytheTiger
TonytheTiger

That its extremely common for people born close together to have the same names, as certain baby names have always enjoyed periods of popularity.

Absolutely
Absolutely

This statement is: [i]I'm not in favor of lawsuits in general, but I certainly hope Miss Davis chooses to take this one to the legal limit.[/i] I've heard since my youth that lawsuits and lawyers are evil, or opportunistic, or frivolous, or indulgent, and it's been poppycock the entire time. Laws exist for a reason, and I'm not trying to say they're all just; just the opposite. If laws are interpreted with frivolous results, blame the laws, and those who pass them (meaning both the representatives and the people, in cases of referenda). Don't blame the lawyers. Their job is to represent clients. It is the civic responsibility of all of us to get rid of laws that are easily abused. Enormous tort settlements are a symptom of excessive laws, not of excessive litigation.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

in mid stride without proper reason or an appropriate way of checking why you're canceling. A big part of the issue here is the way they went about canceling business, another is the reason of why, and the question of why should they cancel. Don't need an extra ID the woman canceled didn't have the same date of birth or residential address as the one in the database - it was a false match. Anyway, doesn't every USA citizen have a Social Security number that can be used as a cross check for this stuff.

darkmoonman
darkmoonman

You expect too much intelligence from the general public.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

database report. My father's name was Ernest Bywater, he was born in August in 1921, my name is Ernest Edward Bywater, born in November 1954. Dad died several years ago. I still get government agencies asking me questions about computer matches from things that were in his name. Before he died, I got called in by the tax people for not declaring the income for my father's investments on my tax return - and that despite us having Tax File Numbers on the various records involved and they were dramatically different. Yeah, lets all hear it for accurate computer matching systems - please call me when we find one. :p

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

When I say I'm not in favor of lawsuits in general, I simply mean that, whenever possible, I prefer to use the available alternatives to torts and courts. If you think that makes me anti-law/lawyer, that's [u]your[/u] problem.

deepsand
deepsand

By law, Social Security Numbers are [b]not[/b] acceptable for purposes of identification, and may be used only for certain statutorily sanctioned purposes. (The extent to which such sanctioned uses has grossly exceeded all reasonable bounds, and that to which the law is ignored, is grist enough for its own discussion.) Additionally, by the Social Security Administration's own admission, the error rate on their NumIdent file is 4.1%, i.e., 1 in 25! And, that does not include the rate at which SNNs are fraudulently reused, e.g. the SSN of a deceased person being used by a one living.

TonytheTiger
TonytheTiger

[i]Anyway, doesn't every USA citizen have a Social Security number that can be used as a cross check for this stuff[/i] Myspace doesn't require entering it. They don't even require a real name. Another thing is Myspace accounts are free, so what are her real damages?

deepsand
deepsand

It's not that so many are so lacking for native intelligence, but that far too few use it well & often.

Absolutely
Absolutely

[i]And how are kids supposed to interact with their friends if you cut off their internet access, hmmm? Oh I suppose you are going to suggest that they should get off their obese posteriors and go outside and play, or maybe even have face-to-face conversation...[/i] It's really not my place to tell other adults, or their children, what to do. To do so would make me a hypocrite, something I'm not willing to become. I don't feel like interfering in nor assisting with the upbringing of children I did not make. Maybe I'm even more of a monster than you thought?

deepsand
deepsand

And, we're dead serious. But, then, you already knew that, didn't you. :D

shardeth-15902278
shardeth-15902278

Cut off children's internet access!? Are you seriously suggesting that parents should actually invest time in child-rearing activies; be a part of their kids' lives? How could you? And how are kids supposed to interact with their friends if you cut off their internet access, hmmm? Oh I suppose you are going to suggest that they should get off their obese posteriors and go outside and play, or maybe even have face-to-face conversation... What a monster you are! ;)

deepsand
deepsand

Have the "rear" seat fact aft!

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

looked into the comparative merits of men and women in air combat team - it had some very interesting results. Their statement were all prefaced with "In general" 1. In a single operator fighter aircraft, men performed better than women. 2. In dual operator aircraft, men performed better than women as pilots. 3. In dual operator aircraft, women performed better than men as gun crew. Seems the men, in general, have a better understanding of where they are, and their opponents are, in relation to each other in the combat zone. However, it also seems the women are better in targeting with the weapons systems than the men. Thus an ideal crew should have a male pilot and a female gunner. Now if only the air force can train the women not to back seat drive. :p

Tig2
Tig2

A Ruger. I was taught by cops so learned the two hand for stability when I was much younger. As I have aged, I find that I continue to have increased stability in a two handed approach. My "little" gun was a Tarus 85CH with pachmar grips. Very comfortable to shoot single handed but I still have greater comfort with a two handed grip. A friend once remarked that men are better "natural" shots while women are better "studied" shots. May be true.

deepsand
deepsand

We were absolutely [b]forbidden[/b] to use a one-handed grip; damn near didn't qualify on the pistol range. On the other hand, on the rifle range, with the old M1 Garand 30-06, I couldn't be beat, even by the Marine instructors.

deepsand
deepsand

it's damned near impossible. Lever action rifles, on the other hand, are generally very easily kept quiet.

deepsand
deepsand

then they must have been disappointed!

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

mostly along the coast and mostly north of the harbour. But the very best parts of Sydney is the highways out of Sydney. I was born in Sydney and spent the first 31 years of my life there, I know what it's like and was happy to leave when I had the first good opportunity to do so, I've tried to avoid it since.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

the academy we were taught the Weaver grip but I found I was faster and more accurate with an extended single hand grip, I could sight down along the barrel faster than using the sights - one eye either side is an easy way to see you're on target - since we weren't allowed to use the hand guns for anything beyond 30 metres it was point blank firing anyway. I liked that Smith and Wesson model 10 .38 special caliber, nice weight, well balanced. I often wonder how the older members feel about the new light weight 9 mm Baretta semi-automatics they get issued with now.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

it was the shotgun of choice for the USA police forces - that was 1975. I would expect the Ithaca has a similar sound - the pumup action has a very loud and unique sound.

deepsand
deepsand

It's a classic lose-lose situation, one that is not limited to businesses either. School teachers are in precisely the same bind.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

will now point at MySpace and say "They see no problems." Voluntary action is often seen as evidence of acceptance of the need for regulation.

deepsand
deepsand

I've never handled a Remington Brushmaster, but I do know the sound of an Ithaca pump shotgun; I suspect that they're similar.

deepsand
deepsand

Perhaps that's because I was shooting a 6-shooter one-handed long before the 2-handed grip came into vogue. Pointing with one's finger is remarkably accurate; and, a handgun whose grip is properly shaped & angled will well mimic finger pointing. Many of today's handguns have grips that are very close to being at a reght-angle to the barrel, and thus do not well lend themselves to "point & fire." That's why I love my Luger; the Walther P-38 does reasonably well also.

deepsand
deepsand

"[i]Ah, well, off to tell all my friends to join TechRepublic.[/i]" They may not thank you for that!

deepsand
deepsand

Were they simply illiterate, carelessly unobservant, or was it that they never asked themselves why that banner [i]here[/u]?

michael.tindall
michael.tindall

It makes sense. The writing is on the wall; By voluntarily doing SOMETHING (whether effective or not) MySpace hopes to keep (or at least delay) some type of legislative measure from being pursued, which it knows would only be worse, and more expensive. This is the classic way of handling the threat of industry regulation-just look at how the fashion industry handled the threat of models being regulated-they pre-empted it, with their own, softer measures...just enough to keep regulators off their backs.

Absolutely
Absolutely

Our agreement on parental responsibility is more important to me than the apparent disagreement on information required by ISP's, which I concede is non-uniform. What I meant to say is that, in general, ISP's require sufficient information to bill us. Some of that information tends strongly to be included in the category of "personally identifiable", thus to be a [u]better[/u] source of such information than the easily falsifiable and/or frequently irrelevant data required by such concerns as MySpace.com, which seeks only page views. It was not my intent to suggest that the personal information collected by ISP's is generally sufficient for positive identification, but that, in any effort to identify Internet surfers, ISP's would have far less dubious -- which is not to say, good, but merely less dubious -- data than any social networking site. Hmm, I'm experiencing [i]deja vu[/i] again. Why could that possibly be? Ah, well, off to tell all my friends to join TechRepublic. See ya later!

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

and kept a 12 guage pump action shotgun in my room. My three room flat was part of an old house converted into six flats, I had what used to be servants quarters. Several break ins had occurred in the area, some people were hurt when they were at home during the break in. I woke up one night to hear some people trying to open my flat door. I pick up the shotgun - a Remington Brushmaster with a 12" barrel - exactly like you see the police use in the movies except it has rifle sights not normal shotgun sights. I yell "Keep out or I'll shoot, I'm armed." The lock clicks, the door starts to open, I chamber the first round No 4 duck shot, I figured I'd sweep the hall if I ever had to shoot it inside. Now anyone who has ever handled a Remington pump action knows it has a very distinct click clack sound as you pump a round from the tube into the chamber ready to fire. The door starts to swing open, 'click-clack' sounds, followed by a herd of elephants stampeding down the stairs - seems my late night callers also knew the sound of a Remington loading. The landlord changed the doors the next day, after I mentioned how close I came to rearranging his hall for him with a new blood and gore wall paper pattern. Now days I can't own a shotgun, against the law. So I have a nice cricket bat handy near the exterior doors in case my son and I want a quick game of cricket - they're much better than a baseball bat, more oomph. I also keep a folding umbrella handy, they really hurt if you hit someone on the wrist with them. And the dart board hangs beside the front door, with the throw line near my doorway, and the darts stored near the throw line - and no officer I don't really keep them there handy to throw at people :p

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

not sure which, about two criminals who thought to rob a high profile restaurant known for its high cash take each night. The walk in, point guns at the staff and yell this is a stick up. Suddenly, they're facing guns being pointed at them from 80% of the clients. They quickly surrender, it was another 10 minutes before the clients were convinced they were for real - they thought it was some idiot's idea of a practical joke. Why you may well ask - strung across the middle of the restaurant was a huge two foot high banner reading "Congratulations to the Police Academy Class of XXXX" - the new cops couldn't believe the crimes were so stupid as to try and rob the place knowing it had to be full of cops. It definitely showed that armed citizens can quickly curtail criminal activity.

Tig2
Tig2

Good gun control means that I have both hands on my gun while in operational mode. And I truly pity any idiot that thinks I'm kidding- especially if they break into my home. I used to have a sense of humour... Edit- missed a capital

deepsand
deepsand

No personal information is needed for gaining 'Net connectivity. All that's needed is a physically accessible service address & a valid credit card. And, from which machine the 'Net was accessed is [b]not[/b] necessarily the machine that 1st initiated such request for access. Were I to remotely connect to one of my client's machines, located in an office with a private LAN, and access the 'Net from that machine, not only is there no way to distinguish my keyboard strokes from those of one physically at the keyboard of that machine, there's no means of easily distinguishing after the fact between keystrokes made at the different machines that are part of that LAN. As for parental responsibility, a resounding "Yes." Children do not require access to any communications media by way of necessity, and thus have no right or entitlement to its use. Such use as they may gain is only to the extent that their parents, guardians, etal. grant such. It is the grantor's responsibility to set conditions of such use, and to ensure that the grantee's use well comports with those conditions.

deepsand
deepsand

MySpace had taken it upon themselves to try to clean up their house. Rather than do their own work, various States' Attorneys General decided to force MySpace to, in essence, act as their agent with regards to the initial, and obviously gross, identification step.

deepsand
deepsand

Philadelphia is well on its way to setting another annual record for homicides, virtually all of which involve guns; most alarming is the sharp increase in the number of bystanders injured and killed, particulalry in protracted shoot-outs between rival factions. If the Philadelphia Police Dept. would, rather than offering token payment & "no questions asked" for the voluntary surrender of firearms, many of which are already inoperable & of no risk to anyone (unless used to bludgeon someone), teach people how & when to use them to defend themselves, the criminal element might at least be a bit less inclined to engage in open daylight shooting sprees.

Absolutely
Absolutely

Aren't ISP's a better point of implementing these checks? They already require one's address and other personally identifiable information. And aren't all missing the point that limiting the access of molesters to children is as simple as limiting the access of children to the Internet, according to default-deny policies which are well-known among network security pros? This is a parental, not governmental, responsibility, period. Lack of the expertise to implement such controls is reason to give small children no access to the computer, not to spend Billion$ on enforcing laws that cannot be enforced without punishing the innocent with the guilty.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

even worse is the type of guns the criminals have has changed. Prior to the blanket ban the fines and penalties for unlawful possession of a civilian type weapon were about one fifth of that for possession of a military type weapon. Also the cost of buying a civilian class weapon on the black market was about a twentieth of buying a military type weapon. Now the penalties are the same and the costs are so close it's not funny. The result is the crimes now have more powerful weapons that are much more dangerous and the general public are disarmed. And the rate of gun related crimes has risen not fallen as promised.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

people correctly, which just makes this whole thing sillier. The attorney generals should be doing the identification process and sending individual court orders to MySpace to close correctly identified accounts, after giving the account holder a chance to prove they're not an offender.

deepsand
deepsand

Ban guns, and the result is that only criminals have guns.

deepsand
deepsand

in the case of [u]Dynamic[/u] addressing, only at a given point in time. And, if the machine is part of a private network, such as a LAN, the IP Address will only idenify the Gateway for that net.

TonytheTiger
TonytheTiger

[i]All this does is make this whole matter idiotic as a real sexual predator won't be using their real name anyway.[/i] That a large number of those whose name was turned over were probably just as innocent as Miss Davis.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

in the name of a pen name I use for writing stories. Because that's a valid email account I can now open a MySpace account in that fictitious name. Also my ISP service is paid annually in advance for a 10% discount on an Unlimited / Unlimited account. To establish that all I needed was to send them a completed form with a name and postal address and a Postal order for the amount. I could have easily provided a false name and a PO box, thus another valid email address. So many ways to get an e-mail address without your real name. All this does is make this whole matter idiotic as a real sexual predator won't be using their real name anyway.

TonytheTiger
TonytheTiger

I have a myspace account. The only thing they asked me for was a valid email address. So I put in my yahoo address, which required another valid email address to get, which when I got it (1998) I used an old hotmail address, which doesn't exist any more but even if it did, the email address I used to get the hotmail one doesn't exist anymore. So unless Myspace can access my ISP's records to see who has my IP address, they have know way of knowing who I am. And if they ARE accessing my ISP's records, WHY?

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

even a free services has a requirement to act in a reasonable manner - this wasn't reasonable. If they aren't doing things to prove identity, then why the requirement to check against the So database - talk about the height of idiotic behaviour. Oh well.

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