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MySpace Predator Caught By Code 374

Posted by kdawson
from the true-names dept.
An anonymous reader writes, "Wired News editor and former hacker Kevin Poulsen wrote a 1,000-line Perl script that checked MySpace for registered sex offenders. Sifting through the results, he manually confirmed over 700 offenders, including a serial child molester in New York actively trying to hook up with underage boys on the site, and who has now been arrested as a result. MySpace told Congress last June that it didn't have this capability." Wired News says they will publish Poulsen's code under an open-source license later this week.
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MySpace Predator Caught By Code

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 16, 2006 @05:09PM (#16459951)
    It took 1,000 lines to do a string compare?
  • Is this legal? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by imaginaryelf (862886) on Monday October 16, 2006 @05:11PM (#16459991)
    I know what he did was a good thing, but what if I wrote a script to go through MySpace looking for other "stuff?" Isn't this a breach of privacy and wouldn't this person or MySpace be vulnerable to lawsuits?
  • by nizo (81281) * on Monday October 16, 2006 @05:14PM (#16460021) Homepage Journal
    ...he manually confirmed over 700 offenders, including a serial child molester in New York actively trying to hook up with underage boys on the site, and who has now been arrested as a result. MySpace told Congress last June that it didn't have this capability.


    Thus spake the article:

    ...Lubrano was so easy to find. "He registered on MySpace using his real name? What a nitwit."


    No amount of rummaging through any database is going to detect someone who registers under a false name, so no MySpace will NEVER really have the ability to find all the sex offenders, unless they can somehow verify that people are who they say they are when they sign up. Though they do now have the ability to catch the really stupid ones it seems.

  • Re:Is this legal? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by AKAImBatman (238306) * <akaimbatman@gma i l . c om> on Monday October 16, 2006 @05:15PM (#16460041) Homepage Journal
    if I wrote a script to go through MySpace looking for other "stuff?" Isn't this a breach of privacy

    Kind of depends. I mean, you intend to make information public when you publicly post it on MySpace, right? So why would you be upset when people start looking for that information? Search engines used to be able to find personal webpages when those were all the craze.

    The truth is, if you are concerned about privacy, don't make your personal matters public. Share only what you're willing to tell people, and hide things that should only be shared with a select few behind passwords. Then if someone breaks your security (even if it's fairly simple security), you at least have a case for your privacy being violated.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 16, 2006 @05:18PM (#16460081)
    Given all the people with convictions that were checked, less than one in a thousand had a conviction since 2000 and were on MySpace. Of those couple of hundred, one seemed to be trying to prey on little girls. This seems to be pretty much of a non-problem.

    On the other hand, if I had to worry about anybody, I'd worry about our senators. A way higher proportion of our elected elite prey on the young than we have caught doing so on MySpace. In case you hadn't been paying attention, here's a link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Foley_scandal [wikipedia.org]

    We spend way too much time worrying about things that aren't much of a problem and way too little time worrying about the things that can really get us.
  • by nizo (81281) * on Monday October 16, 2006 @05:27PM (#16460215) Homepage Journal

    It's all up to MySpace. We can't count on parental supervision...


    And then there is Jacob, one of the kids this 39 year old had "friended":



    I do think its kinda weird for that age to flirt with me and stuff," he writes. "Like, kinda desperate and kinda leading me to think that something's wrong. But I didn't really do anything. I love being complimented. So, I thought it was nice of him to say that he thought I was cute or whatever."

    MySpace is a big part of Jacob's life, and his greatest fear is that this story, or the ongoing police investigation, will get him banned from the internet, or he'll lose his MySpace profile. I urge him to be more careful about adding friends -- he has 3,800 of them -- and to make his profile private. He says he will, but so far his MySpace page remains wide open.

    So Jacob's parents can't be bothered to, you know, go see wtf this kid is doing on MySpace? The earlier comment snippet makes it seem like the parents of this kid are totally off the hook here, but guess what? Wether your kid is hanging out at the local corner or someplace online, you really need to know where they are and what they are doing. And then there is the whole issue about not talking to stangers in the first place; apparently his parents have completely missed the boat in that area. Scary.
  • Whack myspace hard (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mollog (841386) on Monday October 16, 2006 @05:30PM (#16460261)

    MySpace needs to be whacked, hard. Harder.

    The lazy, lying bastards should be shut down, made an example of. At the least, they're now liable because someone showed it could be done, and because they were too lazy to do it themselves, they now have a liability exposure for any child that was preyed upon through their web site.

  • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Monday October 16, 2006 @05:34PM (#16460327) Homepage Journal
    Though they do now have the ability to catch the really stupid ones it seems.

    That's all we ever catch. The stupid ones. Well, that and the really unlucky ones. The ones that are smart enough to kidnap some kid from some non-surveillance location, abuse them, and release them far away from either the pickup point or the place where they abused them are seldom caught - and the ones that are so successful at their emotional abuse that the victim (regardless of age) never even reports the abuse. I'm not sure if that's intelligence or just skill at manipulating people.

    Ever watch 60 Minutes? They had a special on a sting they did and guys just kept showing up at the house all day. Some of them even saw a cop, or some other guy, and waited for a while, then came back. I mean, what kind of idiot do you have to be?

  • by nizo (81281) * on Monday October 16, 2006 @05:43PM (#16460463) Homepage Journal
    Yeah I couldn't believe the 60 minutes segments; some people really are dumb.


    However, what bugs me about the article is it saying things like:

    ...it's all up to MySpace. We can't count on parental supervision...


    I call BS: as a parent it is your responsibility to know where your kid is, and to teach them how to avoid child predators. If your kids spends time online every night, wouldn't it be a good idea to talk to him/her and find out what they are doing online, and who they are talking to?? Yet another article claiming, "don't worry parents, it isn't your job to keep your kids safe online!" isn't helping the problem at all.

  • Re:Good Job Kevin (Score:5, Insightful)

    by inviolet (797804) <slashdot AT ideasmatter DOT org> on Monday October 16, 2006 @05:49PM (#16460549) Journal
    I can deal and respect many of the objectionable ones, but I think a couple of crimes are universal. Child (a real child not 'underage' teenager, a *child*) molestation . . .

    Now why is that, exactly?

    We know that child molestation has occurred for untold eons. Humans are therefore resilient, resistant to such things, for the sake of survival. And at the risk of getting flamed, I want to point out the evidence that most victims of such mistreatment do in fact go on to lead normal lives. Natural selection sternly requires it.

    So. Why is child molestation such an obviously hideous evil?

    Is it just because we in the West are presently obsessed with sex?

    I swear I am not trolling. I myself am actually a victim, from age 8, but I seem to be fine (although my level of slashdotting may be a sign of a deep malfunction). Ever since I realized that I survived unscathed, I have been wondering for a long time why this subject gets an automatic "OMG teh molestation!!!11!" response, when it is actually such a commonplacde in human history.

    It almost -- ALMOST -- smells like we are protesting too much.

  • by mindstrm (20013) on Monday October 16, 2006 @05:52PM (#16460589)
    Even so, robots.txt is not a privacy guarantee, it's only a friendly suggestion.
  • by Babbster (107076) <aaronbabb@gmail.cBALDWINom minus author> on Monday October 16, 2006 @05:57PM (#16460659) Homepage
    Oh, bullshit. It may be a PR nightmare for them, but the truth is that they likely don't have a true liability in the situation, any more than ICQ/AOL, MSN, Yahoo, etc. would have liability if their software was used by a pedophile to make contact with a child.

    In fact, the question could be posed whether they would have liability if they went hunting for "sexual predators" and made a public spectacle of someone who could be guilty of nothing more than propositioning a police officer posing as a street walker - in other words, someone who could be required by their state to be registered as a sex offender but has shown no predilection towards the exploitation of children or forcing sexual contact on someone.
  • Re:Good Job Kevin (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DiamondGeezer (872237) on Monday October 16, 2006 @05:57PM (#16460669) Homepage
    Ever since I realized that I survived unscathed, I have been wondering for a long time why this subject gets an automatic "OMG teh molestation!!!11!" response, when it is actually such a commonplacde in human history.

    It is a fear response.

    On the other hand, if there is a way to find out repeat sexual predators who are looking for new prey then shouldn't we use that method?

    I'm going to make a general comment - I find MySpace unbearably creepy and exhibitionistic. I wonder if its purpose was to provide titillation and unhealthy fascination in young people because it appears to be doing an excellent job at that.
  • Re:Is this legal? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by fithmo (854772) on Monday October 16, 2006 @06:05PM (#16460781)
    Also, as for the people caught (since they're likely the only people who might complain), I believe that you give up some of your privacy rights when you register as a sex offender.
  • Re:Easy? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 16, 2006 @06:07PM (#16460805)
    Personally I'm more than a little shocked they were using anything close to their real names. Thank god criminasl are typically dumb as a box of rocks.

    Also keep in mind, while I haven't read the testimony, "They don't have the ability" means the don't have the code written to perform those tests today, nothing more. Not "A million monkeys could never develop that code because its impossible, now, then, and in the future". And filtering for child molesters potentially puts them at risk, if they miss one the patents are almost certain to sue (you should have protected my kids! I shouldn't have to raise them and look after them...)

  • by Achromatic1978 (916097) <<robert> <at> <chromablue.net>> on Monday October 16, 2006 @06:16PM (#16460919)
    The only thing that worries me about this is 'authenticity'. What's to stop a vigilante group creating Myspace accounts in the names of registered sex offenders, and then reporting said accounts to the police? Sure, it's traceable with a bit of effort - but you just know that there'll be slips made, especially when you connect the words "sex offender", "children", "myspace", "police", and "media" in the same sentence.
  • Re:Good Job Kevin (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Babbster (107076) <aaronbabb@gmail.cBALDWINom minus author> on Monday October 16, 2006 @06:19PM (#16460961) Homepage
    Yes, children are resilient, but another instinct that is supposedly hardwired into us is protection of our offspring. This (perhaps more than the "I want government to raise our kids" thing) is a big factor in heightened reactions to crimes against children. Add in the more rational sympathy for living beings that can't protect themselves like adults can, and you can end up with people overreacting to, and often overestimating the frequency of, these crimes.

    My personal feeling on this specific issue is that I don't think MySpace has any true responsibility to monitor this, any more than other social networking programs/websites (like the many IM programs). The only real recourse society has in this case (barring violation of MySpace's rights) would be to legislate them into things like requiring credit cards for access (thus supposedly proving adult status), boycotting the service or going "vigilante," rooting out the pedophiles Dateline style.
  • by TubeSteak (669689) on Monday October 16, 2006 @06:25PM (#16461039) Journal
    It's worth mentioning that kids don't always know about their kid's homosexual orientation.

    If a kid's parents don't know (s)he's gay, you really think they're going to know about his Myspace page?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 16, 2006 @06:29PM (#16461089)

    Unless they are related adults and children should not be chatting with each other on the internet. No normal 40 year old man likes making friends with 12 year old boys!

    I agree to some extent, the parents should definitely be very heavily involved in any relationship a 12 year old boy has with a 40 year old man. Furthermore, for a 12 year old boy to develop a relationship with someone he met online is extremely risky.

    Having said that, mentoring relationships can be extremely valuable. Some of my parent's friends, for example, have provided me with incredibly valuable guidance - not just direct advice but also as examples of how to live and solve life's problems.

    Basically, I think younger people should seek out older people for guidance much more often than they do but, for younger children in particular, the parents do need to be heavily involved.

    If some 12 year old boy contacted me on the internet, I would want to talk to his parents before I had any kind of interaction with him at all. On the other hand, if some 17 year old boy contacted me to discuss a scientific topic then I see nothing wrong with corresponding. If I did start to become friends with the 17 year old then I would want to get to know his parents but, although I would restrict my interaction to technical topics (no advice on relationships), I wouldn't rule out a casual friendship.

  • Re:Good Job Kevin (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 16, 2006 @06:46PM (#16461293)

    Add in the more rational sympathy for living beings that can't protect themselves like adults can,...

    While your post as a whole was well written and insightful, the number of people who eat meat and feel absolutely no remorse argues against any general sympathy for living beings.

  • eh. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Kaenneth (82978) on Monday October 16, 2006 @06:53PM (#16461361) Homepage Journal
    I once used an image from an offender website as a message board avatar.

    Really, really scary looking guy, convicted of several counts of incest.

    But, HE didn't have an account, his image was used without his knowledge or permission.
  • by FatAlb3rt (533682) on Monday October 16, 2006 @06:55PM (#16461373) Homepage
    Of those couple of hundred, one seemed to be trying to prey on little girls. This seems to be pretty much of a non-problem.

    A little perspective? Make that little girl that he targets your daughter and we'll see how your "perspective" changes.
  • by rkcallaghan (858110) on Monday October 16, 2006 @07:10PM (#16461523)
    Greventls wrote:
    here would need to be a cutoff age, but anyone over a certain age with a large number of underage friends could be flagged. Then their account can be searched for sex related terms, particularly in messages to underage people, and flagged to be looked at.
    Holy thought police batman!

    I do not need to be red flagged and reviewed based on these criteria. I can think of a variety of reasons why an adult could potentially have many people on their friends list who are underage. Do some of them coincide with people who "could be" sexual predators? Of course they do, but that is because sexual predators are attracted to positions that afford them opportunities -- and not because we should be red flagging every teacher, priest and family member that uses a website!

    You know what else? Alot of children turn to these people with sexual concerns during maturity. Not everyone speaks as formally in private as I am right now, people do talk about sex, and sometimes people are just crude. You want to investigate every football coach who gets asked about the birds and the bees, or has some kid moon him via webcam?

    Innocent until proven guilty; remember that always. Having people on your buddy list and being crude on the internet isn't anywhere close to probable cause. Not for the commu^H^H^H^Hterrorists, not for witc^H^H^H^Hmuslims, and not to 'think of the children'.

    ~Rebecca
  • by faux pseudonym (1014377) on Monday October 16, 2006 @07:14PM (#16461557) Homepage

    If a reporter sees a crime on the street and reports it, that's good citizenship. If a reporter goes crime-hunting to fabricate a story, that endangers every other reporter out there trying to act as an independent observer.

    I hope that addresses your false dichotomy.

    Kevin's release conditions aren't any different from any other felon. He's not on supervision, and doesn't have to report crimes he witnesses. As should be obvious from his prior reporting.

    Hope this helps.

    -- Adrian
  • Re:Good Job Kevin (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Maestro4k (707634) on Monday October 16, 2006 @07:30PM (#16461721) Journal
    I'm going to make a general comment - I find MySpace unbearably creepy and exhibitionistic. I wonder if its purpose was to provide titillation and unhealthy fascination in young people because it appears to be doing an excellent job at that.

    I think you'll find that it's mostly the young people providing the "titillation and unhealthy fascination" to each other.

  • by pedrop357 (681672) on Monday October 16, 2006 @07:48PM (#16461923)
    Setting aside issues of what is a "sex offender" vs what I think the public perception of one is, are all "sex offenders" not allowed to use MySpace?

    This is a little like cross referencing a list of library card holders and comparing it to the list of "sex offenders" and waxing hysterical that there are "sex offenders" in the library. Do the same with Blockbuster cards, or the phone book. Geee gads, there are "sex offenders" in the city...

    Yes, there are young people on MySpace, but not all MySpace users are young. Some people are well into their 30s and 40s and use it to connect with other 30 and 40 year olds.

    The mere presence of "sex offenders" should not be cause for concern anymore then if they were in a library, Wal-Mart, mall, grocery store, etc. This is reinforced with the fact that many "sex offenders" really aren't-people who were 18 and their partner was 15, public urinators, that guy that grabbed that girl to yell at her for jaywalking or whatever, etc.
  • by Sj0 (472011) on Monday October 16, 2006 @07:52PM (#16461953) Homepage Journal
    The single biggest problem, in my opinion, is that you can't be sure. Just because a person has registered with a certain name doesn't mean they are that ONE person. I've got the same name as a black minor league hockey player. But I'm not.

    This is why it's not as simple as searching for string a in string b. You'll end up with half a million names, and not only do you have to monitor those half a million users to see what they're up to, you have to prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Dougy is the infamous sex offender, and not an 11 year old trying to pick up 16 year olds.
  • by Sj0 (472011) on Monday October 16, 2006 @07:54PM (#16461979) Homepage Journal
    When you become as prolific as MySpace, you don't have to worry about PR nightmares as such. People aren't using your site because it's safe, they're using it because everyone they know is using it.
  • Re:Good Job Kevin (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 16, 2006 @08:33PM (#16462339)
    Survival of the fittest sternly requires it?

    Evolution is "death of the least fit", not "survival of the fittest". As long as a critter can eek out an existence, it doesn't have to be the very best. Some one can be completely fscked up, and yet still be fit enough to survive.

    Evolution may prove lots of things, but it certainly doesn't prove that rape, child molestation, beatings, or racism are not bad things (by your logic, all of these things have been going on for a long long time, and yet we're all fine).
  • by RallyNick (577728) on Monday October 16, 2006 @08:43PM (#16462427)
    We had a sliding screen door that didn't work too well. My wife left it half-open one day. I asked her how many flies she thought that would keep out:
    a) all of them
    b) half of them
    c) none of them
    d) just the dumb ones

    And the real answer is...
    e) half of the dumb ones
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 16, 2006 @08:58PM (#16462545)
    Thw sooner you go to jail for a crime you didn't commit the better off society will be. Unlikely, but perhaps then you will understand that the law should be upheld against the will of you and your ilk.
  • by Firehed (942385) on Monday October 16, 2006 @09:04PM (#16462591) Homepage
    Make anything personal and you'll care a lot more. It doesn't change the statistics. If you've got fifty million idiots congregated at one place, many of whom are always-horny teenagers, you'd expect more than a handful of predators to try to take advantage of the system. Sure, it's still unfortunate, but considering the numbers we've seen in other situations, it seems remarkably low.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 16, 2006 @10:23PM (#16463241)
    Uh, what about the parents of said children? Are they completely free from being responsible for their kids actions on the Internet?
  • by slughead (592713) on Monday October 16, 2006 @10:47PM (#16463403) Homepage Journal
    The lazy, lying bastards should be shut down, made an example of. At the least, they're now liable because someone showed it could be done, and because they were too lazy to do it themselves, they now have a liability exposure for any child that was preyed upon through their web site.

    Yeah, OR parents could just protect their own damn kids so companies don't have to.

    If I had a kid who I felt was dumb enough to be lured in by one of these guys, myspace would be blocked on my router. If I didn't know how to do that, I'd keep the cable modem in a locked drawer, only to be brought out at times when I could sit with them on the computer and watch what was going on.

    Whatever happened to raising your own kids, and not having the internet, video games, and TV do it for you?
  • by Dhalka226 (559740) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @01:30AM (#16464481)

    Make that little girl that he targets your daughter and we'll see how your "perspective" changes.

    You're absolutely right, that sort of thing is enough to change anybody's perspective and turn just about anybody into somebody who would suddenly support torture and summary execution.

    That is, perhaps, the best reason of them all that it should be impartial parties who administer justice and decide the punishments for these sorts of things. Child sexual abuse is just one prime example. Replace it with "terrorism" and you have another one playing out each day before our very eyes.

    Often times it is best to leave the emotion at the doorstep and debate things logically and dispassionately. Pretty much any issue with as much emotion behind it as this one is going to be one of those cases.

    Another thing to consider with these "lock them up forever!" attitudes toward some crimes: You run the risk of making things worse. Somebody sexually abusing a child is bad. Somebody sexually abusing a child and then killing him/her because, in terms of their sentence, it is essentially free--that is worse. I'd rather get my child back and the offender get out of jail than have him/her killed and see the offender locked away forever. No contest.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @01:35AM (#16464515)
    You do realize that "registered sex offender" could mean you mooned a couple of cops, right?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @08:04AM (#16466909)

    Which brings up a concern I've always had. Let me preface this by stating that I'm the father of 3 and if anyone had ever abused any of my kids they'd be lucky to make it to prison.

    That said, though, doesn't it seem just a little unconstitutional to require only one class of criminal to be registered for life and tracked for life even after they have done their prison time? I know courts have upheld it, but it sounds like inconsistent application of the law.

    Why aren't murderers required to register? I serial killer who never sexually assaults their victims could conceivably get out of jail and not have to register on any watch lists, but a dumb 17 year old boy having sex with an (underage) 16 year old girl can be arrested for rape and required to be a registered sex offender for life.

    How exactly is that constitutional? The whole point of prison was paying your debt to society. If you do that and get out (not on parole, but complete the sentence), why should you have to continue to be punished for life?

    This is like the discussion the other day around felons losing the right to vote even after they are out of prison.

  • by cr0sh (43134) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @05:30PM (#16477121) Homepage
    To me, this is proof of two things. One of them is that so-called "gun control" does not work. This is sort of a truism in the pro-gun camp but this is the real proof in the proverbial pudding. The other is that the government knows precisely what the second amendment is for - protection from the government - and is working specifically to dismantle it. If you can carry your guns into a courthouse, that puts pressure on the judge to work in the best interests of the community and we can't have that, can we?


    You have that absolutely correct. We won't know the outcome, though, until it is too late. Furthermore, whatever way it does go will likely prove to be the "bloodiest" in all of American history (probably even surpassing the Civil War).

    Personally, I hold very liberal views. I am not registered as a Democrat, however. I believe in the purpose and intent of the second ammendment. I believe in the right to carry arms. I believe in gun control - my gun, and I control it. I also believe in an individual's (male or FEMALE) right to choice - IN ALL MATTERS. Your body, your land, your property, your choice. Just be prepared to accept all consequences and responsibilities for your actions. Unfortunately, many people can't or won't - I say these people are weak of mind and will.

    I was once a card-carrying member of both the NRA and the ACLU (I get very interesting mail, now, and I am sure i cause a few people's heads to explode), but with the heavy slant of the NRA toward one specific segment of the population (namely, republican conservatives), and their seeming unwillingness to actually exercize their second ammendment freedoms and knowledge to protect the other ammendments (ie - why the hell can't the NRA get along with the ACLU?) - I dropped support of them for support of the ACLU alone. Unfortunately, I am rapidly getting to the point where I want to drop them, too - because while they support fighting against attacks on the other ammendments and our freedoms, you rarely (not that I can recall - if someone has links, please respond!) they never want to support the rights of the second!

    Gah! Where is my organization which supports ALL RIGHTS for ALL PEOPLE?

  • Re:Is this legal? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by cr0sh (43134) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @05:36PM (#16477175) Homepage
    Many places have restrictions on use of the database as well as laws protecting registered sex offenders from harassment.


    So society has said - wink, wink...nudge, nudge.

The clash of ideas is the sound of freedom.

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