MySpace provided two state attorneys general the names of 90,000 registered sex offenders it had banned from its site in response to a subpoena.
The figure is 40,000 more than the amount previously acknowledged by MySpace, according to Attorney General Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, who along with Attorney General Roy Cooper of North Carolina are among officials pressing social networking sites to adopt more stringent safety measures.
“Almost 100,000 convicted sex offenders mixing with children on MySpace — shown by our subpoena — is absolutely appalling and totally unacceptable,” Mr. Blumenthal said in a statement. “For every one of them, there may be hundreds of others using false names and ages.”
Last year, MySpace, owned by News Corporation, and Facebook.com agreed to set security standards after the Web sites were criticized for not doing enough to protect minors from sexual predators lurking on social networking sites.
Facebook, a privately held company based in Palo Alto, Calif., said the company was still working with Mr. Blumenthal to respond to a similar subpoena.
The disclosure renews the debate of whether social networking sites are a haven for sex offenders. “This is just the tip of the iceberg on MySpace,” said John A. Phillips, chief executive of Aristotle, a company that supplies identity and age verification technologies for companies like the New York State Lottery, breweries and film studios. “These are just the convicted sex offenders” who used their real names.
MySpace’s disclosure follows a report by the Internet Safety Technical Task Force, a panel created by 49 attorneys general, that said the issue is overblown. It concluded the problem of bullying among children, both online and offline, was far more serious than sexual solicitation of minors by adults online.
Mr. Phillips, who served as a member of that task force, has been critical of the report. Ernest Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, said the figure was “disturbing” but that there is no way to know how large the presence of online predators really is.
“We don’t know if that’s 80 percent of the population targeting kids on the Internet or 1 percent,” Mr. Allen said.
He commended MySpace for removing convicted sex offenders from its site. “This clearly reinforces the fact that there are a significant number of people who seek access to kids online,” Mr. Allen said.
Hemanshu Nigam, chief security officer for MySpace, said the company had spent the last two years purging problem members from its site.
“The reality is there are 700,000-plus sex offenders living in the streets of America,” Mr. Nigam said. “What we did was build cutting-edge technology to figure out where they might be living on the Internet and remove them from our site.”
MySpace reported that its community grows 10 percent year over year but has also reported a 36 percent drop in the number of registered sex offenders trying to create profiles.
John Cardillo, chief executive of Sentinel Tech Holding, the company that makes the software MySpace uses to find the sex offenders, said that Facebook had become a haven for convicted offenders blocked from creating accounts on MySpace. Mr. Cardillo, who has approached Facebook about using his technology, said he could find 8,000 offenders on Facebook.
Barry Schnitt, a spokesman for Facebook, said that Mr. Cardillo’s figures were inflated. He also said the company actively monitors its Web site and users for suspicious activities.
“When you search for people on Facebook, you don’t get much information — a name and a thumbnail,” Mr. Schnitt said.