Woman Falsely Labeled a Sex Offender by MySpace

Security Firm Admits Mistake, Web Giant Mum

By DAVID SCHOETZ

May 25, 2007 —

It took nearly a week for Jessica Davis to get an explanation about why MySpace had labeled her a sex offender and pulled her profile from the social networking Web site.

And when her name was finally cleared, it wasn't because of anything MySpace did.

"They have a corporate and a moral responsibility to me as far as coming up and saying, 'We messed up. This is going on. We're doing what we can to fix it,'" said the 29-year-old, newly engaged University of Colorado senior, a woman who confessed to losing her driver's license for careless driving a decade ago but insisted she'd never committed a crime to earn the status of sex offender.

But so far, she has yet to hear from MySpace, the social networking Web site owned by media conglomerate News Corp., which hosts more than 180 million profiles. Nearly a week ago, administrators sent her an e-mail that began "It has come to MySpace's attention that you are a registered sex offender in one or more jurisdictions." The note ended with an e-mail address saying Davis had 14 days to appeal.

She immediately rifled off a response under the subject line "You have the wrong person," asking to rectify the mix-up as quickly as possible.

Wednesday, she heard back from MySpace, receiving a form e-mail that flatly informed her "We do not keep records of removed profiles or images. If it was removed by MySpace it was because of a violation of our terms and conditions -- which can include a number of things (underage, inappropriate images, cyber bullying, spam, etc). Please review our terms for further assistance."

Davis initially contacted ABC News Tuesday after reading a story on ABCNEWS.com about an agreement reached between MySpace and a group of state attorneys general to share information from a database MySpace had built to prevent sex offenders from keeping online profiles. This was particularly troubling: First, she'd been falsely labeled by MySpace as a sex offender; now, the state of Colorado would have access to that designation.

MySpace hired Sentinel Tech Holding Corp. to gain access to the Miami-based security company's specialized sex offender database late last year. The goal was to weed out the profiles of registered sex offenders who may use an online profile to solicit targets -- including younger users who spend time on the social networking site.

Since the database was completed earlier this month, MySpace has already blocked at least 7,000 profiles after classifying the users as sex offenders.

But that list included Davis, who was dumbfounded. "It's so far out, it's not even left field," she said in an interview earlier this week. "It's beyond left field."

Late Wednesday, MySpace issued the following statement to ABC News about Davis' plea of innocence: "The safety of our community is a top priority and we are in the process of reviewing this matter."

At the same time, ABC News began its own vetting process, searching publicly available sex offender databases, including those in Colorado and Florida, the two states where Davis had lived.

Davis is not listed anywhere in the Department of Justice's Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Public Registry, a search engine that allows visitors to search sex offender information provided by states. There was, however, a registered sex offender named Jessica Dawn Davis living in Utah.

By Thursday, Sentinel CEO John Cardillo had gotten involved, offering to "adjudicate" Davis' appeal himself, something he did in minutes when Davis called him directly Friday.

"The Jessica Davis in question is absolutely not a sex offender," Cardillo told ABCNEWS.com, explaining that beyond sharing a similar and common name, Jessica Davis the non-sex offender and Jessica Dawn Davis the sex offender also had birthdays two days off as well as two years off and had lived in Florida at roughly the same time.

Cardillo, who called the initial match an"unfortunate circumstance," said that the database worked exactly as intended.

"It was so close," Cardillo told ABCNEWS.com. "It was one of those rare instances where there was nothing else we could have done but flag her. If we get an offender and I'm looking at a date of birth that's two days off, we're going to assume were dealing with the offender."

Cardillo would not say exactly what pieces of information Davis had to provide to clear her name, citing trade secrets that could help sex offenders beat his database. He added that the experience is likely isolated and may help prevent the same type of snafu from happening again.

"This is something that Sentinel will take a look at and, where appropriate, make recommendations to all of our customers," he said. "We'll put this in our experience log."

MySpace did not respond to phone calls Friday, so it's unclear whether MySpace will take any formal action or if Davis will have her MySpace profile reinstated. Earlier this week, a MySpace official would not say whether Davis' appeal was an isolated incident.

Davis, who called the incident a "lesson in corporate politics," said that Cardillo told her that MySpace was following the situation closely. But it just didn't feel that way to her, she said, given the lack of any written notification clearing her name and the unresponsive appeal system MySpace has in place.

"I do want to hear from them," Davis said. "I want them to publicly admit that they messed up."