Over the next few posts, I want to present an interview I conducted over the weekend with Parry Aftab, a leader in Internet safety movements for children who heads up the WiredSafety volunteer organization. Aftab, a lawyer, has worked with a variety of companies--including MySpace--to help develop their strategies on how to develop child safety protections and privacy settings while still maintaining as many of the features of the network as possible.
I first got introduced to Parry through a New York Times story by Brad Stone, in which she was quoted as saying that no good could come of children using Webcams. At the time, I wrote, "The problem is that people go to these extremes when discussing the issue. It has to be all bad because of child safety fears, with no balancing discussion of the many ways high schoolers could use tools such as video chat and Webcams."
Later, I received comments here on the blog from Aftab, in a post on DOPA that was part of my Access vs. Censorship series.
Your assumption that I am anti-social networking is not accurate. Our record on these issues is pretty clear on this point.
I testified before Congress opposing DOPA. I am also working within all major social networks, having been a strong advocate of the new networking and Web 2.0. Just as I am a strong advocate of safer and more responsible interactive technology use. The two are not mutually exclusive. Awareness and education bridges that gap.
You can see my response to Parry there. Suffice to say, though, that I found a very interesting person behind the quote, which gave me the idea of setting up an interview with her for the blog to examine her work on safety in social networks in greater detail.
Sam Ford: Tell me a little bit about your background and what got you interested in issues of children and social networking.
Parry Aftab: I was originally a corporate takeover lawyer on Wall Street. Eventually, I left Wall Street and started my own law firm. I created the first virtual law firm so that others like me who had started in big firms working on these big deals could come together and work virtually through small firms from wherever they are at in the world. I used the Internet as my network.
In the process, I became one of the first Internet lawyers because I spent so much time online. This was in 1994, and I ended up being a part of AOL's legal discussions, among other things. That was in the very early days of the Internet. At the time, there was no such thing as a "cyber-lawyer;" I was a lawyer on the Internet, and that's something different. However, I read the one case that existed, and ended up being one of the first cyber lawyers. In those conversations in the early days, we ended up talking about things that became law. We invited judges into our chats online.
Sam Ford: What led you into your current work, dealing specifically with safety issues online, Parry?
Parry Aftab: One day, someone sent me a link to a child pornography Web site, asking me if I could put the people behind it in jail and shut down the site. It was an internal page that they linked me to within the site, which just contained names and graphics. When I clicked on one of the links, there was a picture of a 3-and-a-half-year-old child being raped. After seeing that, I decided to shut down my law firm. I sold everything I owned in the world and created WiredSafety, which was known at the time as Cyber Angels.