Scanning online social networks to keep kids safe

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Within days last spring, the wives of Michael Edelson and Brad Weber each asked if they knew whether their kids had MySpace profiles. They didn't, which seemed a bad thing. And it seemed a business opportunity. So the longtime friends, already running another tech venture, launched BeNetSafe to monitor MySpace profiles.

The concern was that their kids might be posting something for the world to see and that the parents ought to take a look. Seems wise. That's different from surveillance software like Spector Pro, which is more an invasion of privacy.

BeNetSafe this week also started scanning Xanga, another social network. It seems to be working—BeNetSafe added hits on Xanga to people whose profiles I'd set up to watch. BeNetSafe plans to add other networking sites and allows you to track three people across MySpace and Xanga for $10 a month or $50 a year.

Experienced hands know to find profiles by searching MySpace or Xanga, or using search engines like Google (where you add "site:myspace" to the search command). But BeNetSafe scans multiple networks daily, and E-mails a summary of its hits—as well as a list of a links—to "friends." It's a time saver and maybe worth the fee if my kids were older.

By the way, the two founders say their wives' concerns were well founded. Edelson found profiles for his teens, including photos of his daughter and her friends looking all dolled up for a college date. Problem was, she's only 13.

"I realized they'd dressed up and posed so they looked older," Edelson says.

Weber had blocked MySpace and warned his kids to stay off such sites for fear of downloading something to his home PC. But he found the profiles of his teens, who had gone to friends' computers, thinking that would shield Dad from finding out.

Suddenly aware, the parents intensified talks with the kids about their online lives. And that's a good thing.