Is MySpace behind proposed “social networking” website regulation?

by on June 30th, 2006

Congress targets social-networking sites

Rep. Diana DeGette, a Colorado Democrat, originally proposed legislation (click here for PDF) in April that would require Internet service providers to retain activity logs to aid in criminal investigations, including ones involving child abuse.

Now DeGette and some of her colleagues in the House of Representatives are suggesting that social-networking sites should be required to do the same thing.

“How much would it cost your company to preserve those IP addresses?” DeGette asked at a hearing on Wednesday that included representatives from Facebook, Xanga and Fox Interactive Media, the parent company of MySpace. “You’re going to store the data indefinitely?”

Of course, any successful regulation of the internet is going to come in the name of protection of children. If this regulation is passed, costs of entry for new “social networking” sites are going to be significantly higher, thereby helping preserve MySpace’s monopoly power. Who is the government to define what social networking is anyway?

When I was younger, I created a massively popular rating website frequented by a number of people under the age 18. When the NY Times wrote an article about the site, but would not publish the URL because we allowed minors to use it, our investors (lawyers) and someone we worked with (grandson of a former NY senator and a Georgetown law student at the time) suggested we work with the newly elected Senator Hillary Clinton to develop legislation to protect children online. We would then create a newly mandated software that “protected” the children (anyone with children connecting to the internet would be required by law to install this software). We would then have an immediate monopoly and guaranteed riches – all in the name of the children. Clinton could paint herself as tough on child predators and we could paint ourselves as a company protecting minors. Of course, I vowed to walk away from the company if we ever went down such a path.

But that approach is not very different than what we are likely seeing today. MySpace may very well be quietly working behind the scenes for regulations that on the surface seem to harm their business, but in actuality, harm smaller websites and companies much more than MySpace. Hiring a few more employees and servers to store this sort of information is a platry investment for News Corp. But what about the 16 year old entreprenuer working on a shoe-string budget who has the next great “social networking” website idea? Using the heavy hand of the State to destroy competition is nothing new.

The internet is an even playing field, a place where children can compete with multi-nationals, and it better stay that way.

Michael Hussey