Popular online social network MySpace will begin sending online alerts to users in certain US regions to help find missing children, as part of an expansion of plans to expand safeguards for users.

MySpace struck a partnership with the National Centre for Missing & Exploited Children to enable MySpace Amber alerts, a programme between the media and law enforcement to issue early warning broadcast bulletins in serious child abduction cases.

It is part of an upgrade by News Corp-owned MySpace of safety features designed to address concerns of child safety advocates, some of whom say it has been slow to keep its many teenage members safe from adult predators.

Last week, the families of five teenage victims of sexual abuse by adult MySpace users sued the service for negligence in protecting its users. Last year, the family of a 14-year-old girl sued the company in a similar case.

MySpace hired a former US Justice Department prosecutor last year to improve its online safety programme.

The Amber alerts, named after nine-year-old Amber Hagerman, who was kidnapped and murdered in 1996 in Texas, will appear in a small text box at the top of a profile, MySpace said. The alerts give MySpace users the option to get more information about the case, such as photos and information on suspects.

“We’ve been working with partners… and law enforcement to find any possible avenue we can take to protect our nation’s children, keeping sex offenders off our site and providing technology that the entire industry can take advantage of,” MySpace chief security officer Hemanshu Nigam said in a phone interview.

With 150 million profiles, MySpace is seen as one of the Web’s fastest-growing properties in terms of users. More than half of US teens with online access use sites such as MySpace to stay in touch with friends, a recent Pew survey found.

The explosive growth in MySpace usage since its purchase by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp in September 2005 has made it a target for sex predators who prey on its huge teen population.

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