Hemanshu Nigam goes from MySpace to his own space

by Larry Magid
This article first appeared on CNET News.com

After four years as chief security officer at MySpace, Hemanshu Nigam is leaving his full-time job to start a new firm that advises companies on how to handle safety, security, and privacy. Nigam, who will continue to advise MySpace and its parent company News Corp., hopes to bring his expertise to start-ups, existing Internet companies, and even governments seeking to better understand how to avoid Internet-related problems.

A former sex-crimes prosecutor with the U.S. Justice Department, Nigam also served as director of consumer security outreach at Microsoft and was as an enforcement officer at the Motion Picture Association of America.

During his tenure at MySpace, Nigam was widely credited with helping the company shed its image as a dangerous place for kids. For years MySpace was under pressure from a variety of fronts including Connecticut and North Carolina attorneys general Richard Blumenthal and Roy Cooper, who claimed that the site was a haven for child predators. In 2008 MySpace signed an accord with 49 state attorneys general that lead to the creation of the Internet Safety Technology Task Force which, in January 2009, issued a report that the threat of predators was less than some had feared. I was a member of that task force.

Nigam’s new company, SSP Blue, will focus on safety, security, and privacy by helping companies deal with issues including international hackers, online child  predators, and identity thieves.

Nigam said his advice to companies is to “develop a holistic approach.”

He said that while he was full time at MySpace, he would field questions from other companies with the blessing of his bosses. “Safety, security, and privacy is something that none of us should be competing on,” he said.

“People go online to enjoy and have a good experience…they don’t go online to have trouble so, in many ways, companies have an incentive to provide safety, security, and privacy to their users. It’s expected by users and by advertisers,” he said.

Unsolicited advice for Facebook
I asked Nigam if he had any advice for Facebook (which is not a client) in terms of its current privacy issues. “Many of these issues would not happen if you thought about privacy or even safety and security holistically,” said Nigam. He also said that if he were advising Facebook he would tell them that “things that matter in the privacy world are transparency and control. How much information are you collecting and what types of control are you giving your users to decide what happens to that information?” He would also advise them to be transparent. “Are you setting default settings that your users know about, and are you offering tools that your users are aware they can use to control what’s public and what isn’t?”

See Anne Collier’s comments on Hemu, documenting some of the important work he did at MySpace.

(Disclosure: MySpace and Facebook are supporters of ConnectSafely.org, a non-profit Internet safety organization I help operate)

Listen to my interview with Hemanshu Nigam

Advice for safe & compassionate social networking

Back to school time is an excellent time for kids, parents and teachers to think and talk about the safe and approprite use of the Internet and social networking tools.

My message to parents and teachers is simple.  Embrace the technology that kids use, recognize that whatever you may lack in technology knowledge you make up in wisdom and remember that you, too, were once a kid.  Your first reaction to kid activity that may be a bit disturbing shouldn’t be to freak out and shut down access but to take a deep breath, talk with (and listen to) the kids and do everything you can to encourage dialog. 

And try to become familiar with the technology your kids use. That doesn’t mean you necessarily have to be their friend on Facebook or MySpace, but before you start trying to control how they use social networking technology, make sure you understand it.

Teachers should attempt to use social networking as part of the educational process. Whether they know it or not, kids are enaged in informal learning through their use of social networking so why not use the same technology for formal learning? And while you’re at it, incorporate digital citizenship and media literacy into your teaching.  

As my ConnectSafely co-director Anne Collier pointed out in “Social media literacy: The new Internet safety,” media literacy and critical thinking “is protective against manipulation and harm.” Encouraging kids to practice good digital citizenship helps protect all young people, because “behaving aggressively online more than doubles the risk of being victimized.”

As per kids, Hemanshu Nigam, the chief security officer at News Corp and MySpace offers some Online Safety and Back to School advice especially suited to youth who use social networking services like MySpace and Facebook (MySpace is one of several companies that provide financial support for ConnectSafely).  He starts off with the usual internet safety advice: “don’t post anything you wouldn’t want the world to know” and “don’t get together with someone you ‘meet’ online unless you’re certain of their identity.”  Then, perhaps a bit uncharacteristic of his background as a former federal prosecutor, Nigam also provides advice about the compassionate and kind use of social networking

  • Post with respect: photos are a great way to share wonderful experiences.  If you’re posting a photo of you and your friends, put yourself in your friends’ shoes and ask would your friends want that photo to be public to everyone.  If yes, then you’re uploading photos with respect.
  • Comment with kindness: compliments are like smiles, they’re contagious.  When you comment on a profile, share a kind word, others will too.
  • Update with empathy: sharing updates lets us tell people what we think.  When you give an opinion on your status updates, show empathy towards your friends and help them see the world with understanding eyes.

ConnectSafely.org, the non-profit website I co-direct, has lots of other advice on the safe and productive use of social media and technology.

Online Safety Technology Working Group Convenes

by Larry Magid

WASHINGTON — Last year, Congress passed the Protecting Children in the 21st Century Act,which called for yet another committee to study Internet safety. By statute, the Online Safety and Technology Working Group (OSTWG) is made up of representatives of the business community, public interest groups and federal agencies. I’m on the committee as co-director of the nonprofit ConnectSafely.org.  ConnectSafely co-director and NetFamilyNews editor Anne Collier serves as co-chairman along with MySpace cheif security officer, Hemanshu Nigam.

The group, which reports to the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, is totally unfunded. The government wasn’t even able to buy us lunch, let alone plane tickets to Washington. But I’m not complaining. It’s an honor to have even a small role in helping to shape national Internet safety policy.

To be honest, I was a bit skeptical when I first heard about the working group, wondering why we needed yet another committee to look at this topic. In 2000, the “COPA Commission,” created by the Children’s Online Protection Act of 1998, issued a very comprehensive report, and last year I was privileged to serve on the Internet Safety Technical Task Force — created by attorneys general of nearly every state.

The task force issued a report debunking myths about Internet safety, concluding that kids are more at risk from other kids than from so-called Internet predators. That finding was rejected by several of the state attorneys general who received it. South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster said the report’s findings were “as disturbing as they are wrong,” adding that “the conclusions in this report create a troubling false sense of security on the issue of child Internet safety.”

But I think the report was both accurate and insightful. It recognized that Internet safety is too complicated to be reduced to sound bites and sensationalist TV shows, and that most of the kids who get in trouble online also get in trouble offline. The Internet may amplify dangers, but it doesn’t create them.

I’m not aware of any federal Internet safety commissions that met during the Bush administration. From what I can tell, that administration paid very little attention to Internet safety other than to add to the exaggerations and fear-mongering about so-called Internet predators.

So is there any point in taking yet another look at Internet safety? Yes, if only because things have changed dramatically over the past few months. To begin with, we have a new administration led by a president who actually understands the Internet as well as the constitutional issues that arise whenever government tries to control online speech, access or even safety.

When the new working group convened Thursday, our first speaker was Susan Crawford, who works at the White House as special assistant to the president for science, technology and innovation policy. A law professor and founder of OneWebDay, Crawford brings a refreshing understanding of the government’s need to balance safety and security with civil liberties, privacy and even the First Amendment rights of minors.

Her opening remarks helped set the tone for the group by admonishing us to “avoid overheated rhetoric about risks to kids online,” pointing out that “risks kids face online may not be significantly different than the risks they face offline.”

She also reminded us that “the risks are more subtle than the press would have us believe,” and that we need to avoid trying to find “silver bullets” and recommending policy based on “anecdotes.” Finally she pointed out that we need to be careful to avoid “tech mandates.” While the working group will research the efficacy of technology tools to help protect kids, Crawford repeated something that I have been saying for 12 years: “The best software (to protect kids) is between the ears,” not on a device.

The working group will be divided into four subcommittees: child pornography reporting, data retention, protection technology and education. I will chair the education subcommittee and look forward to hearing from companies, educators, nonprofits and anyone else who has ideas about how to educate America’s youth to keep on using the Internet productively and safely. If you have ideas, please feel free to share them.

Guest commentary: Don’t stop the dialogue!

By Hemanshu Nigam

It’s New Year’s Eve, and your teen is all decked out and ready for a big party. She’s got her iPhone, BlackBerry, or some other cell phone with a camera in her pocketbook. And she’s ready to roll. You’re glad she’s got these gadgets so you can get in touch with her. You tell her to call to check in, to let you know she got there safely, to ask for permission to stay later. She agrees. You give her a quick hug and run upstairs to get ready for your own party to celebrate the arrival of a new beginning. You even remember to put the new digital camera you got for Christmas by your purse so you don’t forget it. Continue reading