After four years as chief security officer at MySpace, Hemanshu Nigam is leaving his full-time job to start a new firm that advises companies on how to handle safety, security, and privacy. Nigam, who will continue to advise MySpace and its parent company News Corp., hopes to bring his expertise to start-ups, existing Internet companies, and even governments seeking to better understand how to avoid Internet-related problems.
A former sex-crimes prosecutor with the U.S. Justice Department, Nigam also served as director of consumer security outreach at Microsoft and was as an enforcement officer at the Motion Picture Association of America.
During his tenure at MySpace, Nigam was widely credited with helping the company shed its image as a dangerous place for kids. For years MySpace was under pressure from a variety of fronts including Connecticut and North Carolina attorneys general Richard Blumenthal and Roy Cooper, who claimed that the site was a haven for child predators. In 2008 MySpace signed an accord with 49 state attorneys general that lead to the creation of the Internet Safety Technology Task Force which, in January 2009, issued a report that the threat of predators was less than some had feared. I was a member of that task force.
Nigam's new company, SSP Blue, will focus on safety, security, and privacy by helping companies deal with issues including international hackers, online child predators, and identity thieves.
Nigam said his advice to companies is to "develop a holistic approach."
He said that while he was full time at MySpace, he would field questions from other companies with the blessing of his bosses. "Safety, security, and privacy is something that none of us should be competing on," he said.
"People go online to enjoy and have a good experience...they don't go online to have trouble so, in many ways, companies have an incentive to provide safety, security, and privacy to their users. It's expected by users and by advertisers," he said.
Unsolicited advice for Facebook
I asked Nigam if he had any advice for Facebook (which is not a client) in terms of its current privacy issues. "Many of these issues would not happen if you thought about privacy or even safety and security holistically," said Nigam. He also said that if he were advising Facebook he would tell them that "things that matter in the privacy world are transparency and control. How much information are you collecting and what types of control are you giving your users to decide what happens to that information?" He would also advise them to be transparent. "Are you setting default settings that your users know about, and are you offering tools that your users are aware they can use to control what's public and what isn't?"
(Disclosure: MySpace and Facebook are supporters of ConnectSafely.org, a non-profit Internet safety organization I help operate)
You can listen to my interview with Hemanshu Nigam here:
Subscribe now: iTunes (audio) | RSS (audio)