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No, not because of civil liberties and protecting the pedophiles.
October 16, 2006 6:27 AM   Subscribe

Arguing Against Datamining MySpace in search of Pedophiles. In certain circles, MySpace has become the villain de jour for all sorts of debauchery (threatening the President, phishing , dismembered women , etc.), as well as being fertile hunting grounds for the pedophile. Given the huge size of MySpace, reported as 100 million accounts (although estimates of active accounts are far lower, at approximately 43 million ), and an hypothetical and absurdly low natural incidence of pedophiles and pedarasts (let's say just 1%), one could assume that there could be as many as 430,000 to 1,000,000 of them out there. Wired contributor and reformed hacker (Kevin Poulson) has developed a script to weed out the bad seeds [via]. His script was effective, although it took several months of sifting and refining, as well as numerous false positives - 744 registered sex offenders, 497 with convictions for crimes against children. While such an experiment has merit, how much time, resources, and law enforcement manpower will be wasted chasing down the ""high-cost "false positives", and what will be neglected and sacrificed for that effort?
posted by rzklkng (38 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
If Americans can't keep the pedophiles out of their government, why waste the time on MySpace?
posted by rough ashlar at 6:30 AM on October 16, 2006 [1 favorite]


I'm in favor of anything that puts MySpace users in prison.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 6:30 AM on October 16, 2006 [1 favorite]


If Americans can't keep the pedophiles out of their government, why waste the time on MySpace?

Because it's easy for the GOP to point fingers at anyone but themselves.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:32 AM on October 16, 2006


I don't know. They do the circular firing-squad pretty good.
posted by crunchland at 6:36 AM on October 16, 2006


In my first phone call with Giardina, he was amazed that Lubrano was so easy to find. "He registered on MySpace using his real name? What a nitwit."

That's kind of the flaw in this idea.
posted by smackfu at 6:44 AM on October 16, 2006


Read the history of myspace, why it's creators built it, and why Fox bought it. Its reason for existence is datamining profiles to sell products, analyze habits and tastes etc. It is absurd to ban datamining to look for criminal behavior if they are already datamining it for market behavior. There is no privacy on myspace, it was never advertised as offering any, and users should not expect any.
posted by Pastabagel at 6:51 AM on October 16, 2006


absurdly low natural incidence of pedophiles and pedarasts (let's say just 1%)

That seems absurdly high to me.
posted by dead_ at 7:06 AM on October 16, 2006


Pastabagel writes "It is absurd to ban datamining to look for criminal behavior if they are already datamining it for market behavior."

Yes, there is absolutely no difference between investigations that can result in arrest and imprisonment, and market data research on what 20-year-old women like to buy. Brilliant.
posted by clevershark at 7:07 AM on October 16, 2006


Pastabagel, see post title and last sentence of the FPP. The point is that datamining for pedophiles is 1) high-cost in the action eventually taken on such data, 2) the sheer number of areas for errors - like being a registered sex offender, using your real name, etc., and 3) the statistical usefullness of taking some sort of grand, sweeping action that returns 479 of 43,000,000, or 0.01139% of the population. Even if one looks at the number of persons on the National Sex Offenders Database (386k) and crosschecks it with idiots on MySpace using their real names, you only get 0.19%. Isn't a 100% solution overkill for a less then 1% problem?
posted by rzklkng at 7:07 AM on October 16, 2006


a pedophile--is a person sexually attracted to pre-pubescent children a ephebophile--is a person sexually attracted to teens.
posted by halekon at 7:08 AM on October 16, 2006


BTW, can a mod kill those extra < p>'s in the post.
posted by rzklkng at 7:10 AM on October 16, 2006


There isn't nearly enough data there to ever be useful to pinpoint pedophiles. And even if we could, wanting to have sex with children isn't a crime, is it? We can't do anything about MySpace thoughtcrimes, even if we ought to care about them, and I have much more important things to care about, I dunno about you guys.

Pedophilia is a sexual deviance that becomes a problem when it's acted on, and though I'm no psychologist I'm pretty sure that actual child sexual abuse is much more a symptom of societal alienation and personal history and chemical imbalance, than some sort of predetermined roulette-like horror we can track and stop like the Orwellian police in Minority Report.

Cute script, I'm sure, and it's good that they're opening up the source code, because there are possibly some useful things in there, but sitting around and combing MySpace for freaks, well, we'll be here all day and all we'll get for our trouble is a whole lot of paranoia.
posted by blacklite at 7:15 AM on October 16, 2006


The company's chief security officer, Hemanshu Nigam, responded that MySpace would like to ban sex offenders from the site, but is waiting for new laws that would make it easier to do so. He said the company is lobbying Congress for legislation that would require sex offenders to register their e-mail addresses with a central database. "By having such a database, MySpace and other sites would be able to access it in order to block these individuals from ever registering on the site," Nigam said, in a written statement.

I can think of an easier solution. During the sign-up process there should be a checkbox: Are you a pedophile? People who answer "Yes" would be prevented from joining.
posted by justkevin at 7:25 AM on October 16, 2006


It goes like that sometimes, says [detective?] Giardina -- a perp will get cold feet ahead of the first planned meeting, the second. By the third time, blind hope usually overpowers the cool, rational voice telling the suspect he's being set up, and the day ends with handcuffs.

Did anyone else think those cops in the Wired article weren't too bright either? They get a lead from a reporter who has already contacted suspect and his MySpace friends, the cops set up a fake account to talk to him and put his house under surveillance. They basically prank-called his house to wake him up to come out and play.

A signed search warrant is burning a hole in Giardina's pocket.

Evidence and sensible deployment of police resources be dammed because somebody has a burning need to take down an easy target. It sounded like a lot of man-power spent on arresting a man on a misdemeanor charge only to fish for more evidence on his computer.
posted by peeedro at 7:29 AM on October 16, 2006


absurdly low natural incidence of pedophiles and pedarasts (let's say just 1%)

That seems absurdly high to me.


Using the popular definition of pedophile as used in the Mark Foley case, 96% of men are pedophiles.
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 8:03 AM on October 16, 2006


This was just one guy working for a few months. Do you think a small team of say 25 or so working with local law enforcement is too high a cost to protect kids? So what do you suggest we do? Just let these guys have at the kids, and cut our losses?
posted by Rusty Iron at 8:24 AM on October 16, 2006


RustyIron, the parents should be the one's "protecting the kids" and educating them that cyberspace, like the playground, the schoolyard, and the roller skating rink, can be very dangerous, and they should be carefull not to do anything stupid. I hear pedophiles also drive cars, brush their teeth, and use telephones. Perhaps we should look into those as well?
posted by rzklkng at 8:33 AM on October 16, 2006


Am I the only person who wonders why all the scandal and concern over MySpace started immediately after Rupert Murdock bought it? It seems like the week after, there was a news story about MySpace hearings in Congress or something, and all the local news programs were "someone think of the children!!!" Maybe I'm just cynical. Or I suppose optimistic in this case.
posted by unknowncommand at 8:35 AM on October 16, 2006


No, Rusty Iron, let's not cut and run from the pederast threat. All I'm saying is that, in this particular story, the local law enforcement screwed up. If they had been patient and more discreet, and if the suspect actually wanted to meet the child they were pretending to be, the arrest would have resulted in an easy felony charge instead of a misdemeanor and some confiscated computers. Whatever program is used to protect children from online predators, I hope it's run better than Giardina can manage.
posted by peeedro at 9:11 AM on October 16, 2006


I can think of an easier solution. During the sign-up process there should be a checkbox: Are you a pedophile? People who answer "Yes" would be prevented from joining.

While I'm sure this was said in jest, from a legal point of view its actually not that bad an idea. From a marketing point of view it sucks, but if they had this I think it would pretty well indemnify them from the spat of lawsuits almost certainly in the hopper.
posted by ChasFile at 9:35 AM on October 16, 2006


Its reason for existence is data mining profiles to sell products, analyze habits and tastes etc. It is absurd to ban datamining to look for criminal behavior if they are already datamining it for market behavior.

Considering how badly the cops screwed up in three countries over the Landslide site (an apparent slam dunk against thousands of people who purchased child porn with credit cards) ... uh I'd much prefer if they didn't use the data they collected to ferret out suspected paedophiles.

but sitting around and combing MySpace for freaks, well, we'll be here all day and all we'll get for our trouble is a whole lot of paranoia.

amen.
posted by squeak at 9:50 AM on October 16, 2006


Rusty Iron: This was just one guy working for a few months. Do you think a small team of say 25 or so working with local law enforcement is too high a cost to protect kids? So what do you suggest we do? Just let these guys have at the kids, and cut our losses?

Well, I have the opposite reaction to this story. It was one person spending a few months screening suspects to identify a single fairly obvious suspect for a crime that is almost as rare as it is notorious.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:10 AM on October 16, 2006


I just want to know what Nancy Grace thinks of all this.
posted by beaucoupkevin at 10:35 AM on October 16, 2006


There's something strange about the way Poulsen's piece is written (aside from the somewhat gradiose heroic voice). He keeps talking about the code he wrote, saying things like "my simple script had brought me to the brink of just such an arrest", as if his perl script was an instant catch-a-predator tool. But when he gets down to the actual methodology, he had to use a lot of old-fashioned human-powered investigation techniques. Weeding out the false positives from his script took "months".

So yeah, I think there's a great lesson here: data mining is a powerful tool, but don't expect it to be automatic. Computers are still pretty damn stupid, and you need competant human investigators spending serious time checking the results if you ever hope to get something of value out.
posted by mr_roboto at 11:31 AM on October 16, 2006 [1 favorite]


One of the reasons why I think we should object to datamining and profiling is there are some pretty good reasons to believe that any time a person is placed under suspicion and open to questioning there is a high risk that due process rights will be violated. While "innocent until proven guilty" is the way criminal courts work, the police often work on the assumption that a suspect is guilty and go about the process of collecting evidence to confirm guilt.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:42 PM on October 16, 2006


...there is a high risk that due process rights will be violated.

i think that with the new cycle of pedophile-catching-as-entertainment, amongst other phenomena (including anti-terrorist political rhetoric), more people are getting accustomed to and welcoming the suppression of due process (until it affects them personally, that is)...

...if they're going to go after pedophiles online, they at least need to establish some informed standards...in this case the guy at least finds activity/communication that is already happening, but a lot of these cases have to do with detectives (or 'concerned citizens' of questionable qualifications and mental status) posing as children to engage a potential pedophile...the problem here is that these detectives aren't just putting up profiles or sitting in chatrooms waiting to be approached (or their work would be incredibly inefficient)...they're seeking out and engaging someone who might not otherwise act out some sick fantasy...in trying to draw him out, they are feeding the behavior, and i wouldn't doubt in many cases offering a degree of enticement that could take someone over the line from fantasy to reality...but in reality, how many children are there really who not only (1) would engage with an adult in sexual conversation in the first place, but who would also (2) be, in effect, the sexual aggressor--trying to make something happen--these detectives are hoping for establishment of contact to successfully prosecute a case, so i doubt they're waiting around for the guy to make the first move...

...i mean, no doubt these guys are messed up...but it seems to me too much like trying to arrest a man for solicitation of prostitution by sending the hooker to his front door in a bikini to talk him into it...the situation creates the premise of a crime that would otherwise not exist, to proffer criminal behavior that otherwise would not have taken place, with a big question mark hovering over whether the guy would have committed the crime not presented with such easy opportunity...

i'm curious: do the laws applying to sex offenders (staying away from children and such) already apply to online communication? i imagine they would, but i'm curious if the law has caught up to it...
posted by troybob at 2:41 PM on October 16, 2006


“if they're going to go after pedophiles online, they at least need to establish some informed standards”

Indeed. In addition - what if the guy is into fantasy role play? He digs his girlfriend/wife dressing up as a cheerleader or
something and he does that online as well.

That aside - if you’re a ‘false positive’ your life is screwed. Ok, so you’re not a child molester, but you’ve been accused of being one. You go to court and the case is dropped because it’s baseless. Meanwhile, no one wants you anywhere near a park or playground, if you go to church, those people are looking at you funny, no one is going to ask you to babysit their kids (even though the charges were completely false and you were exonerated - would you trust your kids with that guy?)
Were I of a more paranoid bent I’d speculate this was going to be used to implicate many more people in the future as a character assassination tool.
Which, ultimately, would be horrible set of circumstances beyond the obvious witch trials - consider: if everyone is a pedophile, no one is.
Same problem with terrorism. The real bastards get off while the cops spend time on security theater chasing shadows set by political puppeteers.
But of course, that’s just speculation.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:58 PM on October 16, 2006


Issues of entrapment are not new BTW. I think that this is something that just needs to run its course like the satanic panic of the 80s.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:19 PM on October 16, 2006


This was funnier when Aempire did it. Assuming you care enough to unzip the linked files, eventually you will find reference to a bit of software he came up with - 'The HoeAssassin.' Essentially the idea was to figure out who on myspace had slept with him, and who refused, and then train spamassassin to find profiles like the ones in his 'slept with' category. Finding pedos is boring, but find chicks who are likely to put out, now that's useful datamining.
posted by mock at 3:49 PM on October 16, 2006 [1 favorite]


There is a simple solution to child predators and it doesn't involve a national database, high-teck tracking devices, or sting operations. If these people are a documented threat to children, what the fuck are they doing out of jail in the first place? I'm not usually of the "tough on crime/lock 'em up and throw away the key" mindset, but if somebody has actually molested or attempted to molest a kid, why give them a second chance?

Jails too full? How about letting out some nonviolent drug offenders? Say what you will about rights, but how much freedom does a registered sex offender have out of prison?

Let out the drug offenders, and lock up the kiddie diddlers. It's simple, effective, and possibly even politically expedient. These people aren't rehabilitated, and the perceived necessity of Megan's law, etc. is just a testament to that fact.
posted by SBMike at 4:18 PM on October 16, 2006


OK, from a technical standpoint - HE'S SEARCHING FOR THEIR NAMES? This is data mining? Hey, I did some data mining last night and then called the number I found and ordered a pizza. Time to update the resume!

I would expect better from Dark Dante.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 4:47 PM on October 16, 2006


Kid Charlemagne writes "OK, from a technical standpoint - HE'S SEARCHING FOR THEIR NAMES? "

Hey! He did a zip code match, too!
posted by mr_roboto at 5:19 PM on October 16, 2006



The next thing he'll write is a script to find drug use and underage drinking on MySpace... and then there won't be many kids left outside of juvie for the perverts to seduce.

Of course, the ones inside...
posted by Maias at 6:23 PM on October 16, 2006


if somebody has actually molested or attempted to molest a kid, why give them a second chance?

Of course I agree with releasing drug offenders, if you want to throw out the notion of rehabilition completely, well ... actually, you can probably get a job with the prison-guard union or get elected to public office quite easily. Damn.

I have a hard time getting upset with police "datamining" MySpace for child predators, however. It's a much better use of time than tracking down stolen cars. (Just make lojacks mandatory for god's sake.)
posted by mrgrimm at 7:38 PM on October 16, 2006


You could exterminate every playground-lurking, MySpace-refreshing "predator" on the face of the planet, and it would hardly make a dent in the child abuse statistics. Almost all of it is intra-family.
posted by stammer at 5:03 AM on October 17, 2006


Let me get this right:

1) Cop pretends to be child
2) Cop speaks to (purported) pedophile
3) 'Pedophile' responds
4) Arrest

Could someone please explain to me how this is any different than a cop saying "Hey buddy, want to buy some weed?"

It's fucking entrapment. Not that kids don't need to be protected--don't get me wrong. But the vast majority of molestations occur within the family or immediate circle of friends surrounding the family. All this shit is fucking pointless.

And it's entrapment, for fuck's sake. No crime has been committed! And, arguably, without the intervention of the police posing as children, no crime would be committed.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 5:24 AM on October 17, 2006


“And it's entrapment, for fuck's sake. No crime has been committed! And, arguably, without the intervention of the police posing as children, no crime would be committed.”

Right on, dirtynumbangelboy. I’m totally with you. We should bomb a police station, man. I’ve got some dynamite. Together, we can really stick it to the man. Off the pigs, dude. Yeah. So...where do you live?

Funny, I set up web cam acct.s for some folks in my fambly (yeah, “fambly,” yeah - extended family & friends/hangers on, etc. So?) so they could see my kids and say ‘hi’ etc. stuff like that and you see oodles of other accounts of young girls that have signs on their cams or pictures or other indicators that say stuff like “don’t ask to see my tits or I’ll ban you” or “Go to hell pedos” etc.
Beyond not having the web cam outside the family room and passwording it, I’m not sure WTF parents are doing. But obviously the kids are onto this kind of thing and no one likes to be exploited. So it seems somewhat self-policing in the first place. And really, things that occur in cyberspace should be subject to the meatspace test. If I’m in Burger King (for God knows what reason) and some 13 year old kid comes over and starts hitting on me, I’d be a little freaked out. (oh, sure, we’d go in the back and have the sex, but still...)
But on cyberspace that social interaction rule doesn’t apply?
The perverts gotta be obsessively playing the state lottery as well if they think those kinds of odds pay off. Certainly you have the odd story - the Pakistani guy and the 14-15 year old or however old she was. And even then - those kinds of things turn out so well, don’t they?

I’m with dirtynumbangelboy the time and money would be better spent on DCFS and other child service agencies. And, y’know, bombing police stations. (I’ll call you about that dirtynumbangelboy. We can meet at Burger King)
posted by Smedleyman at 6:46 AM on October 17, 2006


Seems kind of glass-half-empty to think that the false positives would waste police time better spent elsewhere. What about the police time it would otherwise take to find all the true positives?
posted by scarabic at 6:05 PM on October 17, 2006


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