Netco expands to 11 countries

MySpace could soon become everyone’s space — but more privately.

News Corp. unit said Tuesday it plans to expand to 11 countries, citing France and Germany as specific targets.

China and India are both under consideration for international expansion as well, the company acknowledged, even though the sprawling, unpoliceable nature of user-generated content could face censorship challenges in China.

But even as the company was announcing international goals, it was making plans to add features that would restrict the viewing and disclosure of certain user information.

Under a plan expected to be announced today by MySpace chief security officer Hemanshu Nigam, users above the age of 18 would not be able to contact users under 16 unless they already know their email address or names.

Site would also allow users to set their profiles to “private,” restricting the info users outside a person’s network of friends could view.

“We take aggressive measures to protect our members,” Nigam said, though “ultimately, Internet safety is a shared responsibility.”

For News Corp., announcement exemplifies the tricky balance it must strike in enacting measures that cut down on unwanted incidents without choking off the easy access that has enhanced the serendipity factor of the social-networking site and helped make it so popular.

Company was prompted to act by a number of high-profile incidents involving alleged predators.

On Tuesday, News Corp. received a blow when it and MySpace were sued by a 14-year-old girl in Texas.

She is seeking $30 million in damages after allegedly being assaulted by a man she met on the site who posed as a student at her high school.

News Corp. topper Rupert Murdoch has said the company is fully cooperating with law-enforcement agencies on similar cases.

On the international front, MySpace recently launched a British version, and on Tuesday, it named former AOL Europe exec David Fischer to head the site.

The number of international users of MySpace is not known, but at least in the U.K., many British users are on MySpace.com, the American version. All the new sites would be presented in local languages.

For MySpace, Europe presents an attractive territory not only because of new subscribers — company already has more than 85 million of those in the U.S. — but also because it could accelerate development with mobile platforms, which are more popular in Europe.

But Murdoch could also face challenges in trying to expand MySpace overseas. Culture of blogging and personalized Web pages have lagged in Europe relative to the U.S.

And to some critics, the challenge remains how to integrate the site into News Corp.’s other businesses instead of simply building a wider base. Site recently announced it would sell episodes of “24,” but observers say the site must function as more than a retail platform if investment is going to pay off in more fruitful ways.

Still, Wall Street liked the move and sent News Corp. stock up 1%. After a period of stagnation last year, company’s share price is now near its highest point in two years and has climbed nearly 50% since November.

On the security front, legal precedent argues in MySpace’s favor in the Texas case; in a potentially related case, an appeals court upheld a decision that AOL could not be prosecuted for copyright infringement of material posted on its listservs because it’s considered a “passive” facilitator.

News Corp. could also settle, but in doing so it could create an inducement for other alleged victims to sue.

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