A new online service protects you—and your children—from predators who hide behind the anonymity of the Internet. IBI spoke with Tracy Jackson, marketing coordinator for Portcard.net, about the service and its connections to Peoria.

Explain the concept behind Portcard.net.

Portcard.net keeps the creeps away by authenticating the identity of the person behind a username on social networking services like AIM, MySpace and Facebook. Portcard.net stores that information in the event that there is a need to identify a particular registered user to law enforcement, but Portcard.net does not share personal information with any other entities.

Portcard.net follows a simple three-step process:

  1. You or your family joins Portcard.net
  2. Get your friends to join
  3. Don’t chat with anyone who contacts you and is not a member of Portcard.net.

The membership and authentication process takes only a few minutes and protects you from Internet predators while chatting on services like AIM, MySpace and Facebook.

How does the Portcard screening process work?

Portcard is based on the concept that people want to be able to participate in Internet-based social networking services and chat services using anonymous screen names, but they want assurance that other people with whom they are communicating are not sexual predators or other types of evildoers. Portcard provides a voluntary registration service through which anyone can verify that an identified individual is “behind” a given screen name.

Any individual who registers with Portcard can choose to limit his or her social networking and IM dialogue to other registered Portcard holders. The idea is that as Portcard expands and becomes well-accepted, it will become a primary means of validating anonymous usernames on the Internet.

The details are confidential and proprietary—we don’t want to let evildoers know how the system works. What we can say is that it has been designed and tested by experts, and that it has many safeguards built into the system to catch false applicants for a Portcard.

Explain how Portcard evolved from an idea by two business students at the University of Southern California to where it is today.

Portcard started as a sophomore marketing class project at the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California. Over the winter break right before this class, Ricky Doyle had spent a week snow-skiing with his cousins, many of whom are under the age of 14. Several of his cousins came up to him during the trip and told Ricky about their MySpace and Facebook accounts, and how they had created these accounts without their parents’ knowledge. Being curious, he asked, “Why would your parents not let you on these sites?” All of their answers were the same: “Because they’re not safe!”

How did ELM CEO Lee Graves become involved?

Ricky’s dad suggested he contact Lee Graves, in light of all of the children programs and foundations he supports. Lee had Ricky fly to Chicago to meet with him. At that time, there was no business plan, just a vision based on the homework assignment.

Ricky had known Lee his whole life, as Lee was his dad’s best friend and fraternity brother. After hearing about this new idea and what it could do to keep people safe on the Internet, Lee committed to funding the initial stage of the company. Thus, Ricky Doyle received his first investment on the day before he turned 20. He and Lee shook hands, and he flew back to school to get to work on starting a company.

What role will the Peoria area play in the rollout of Portcard?

A huge role, as Peoria is a foundational hub for the rollout of Portcard. The reason Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis embraced Portcard was two-fold. Not only does Portcard provide a cutting-edge way to protect Peoria-area kids from online predators, it also promotes the entrepreneurial efforts of Lee Graves and his associates right here in Peoria. This is a great opportunity for Peoria in a multitude of ways. Lee Graves is on the board of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Peoria, and in recognizing a need for more funding sources, he structured a 10 percent return of subscription revenue from Portcard to the national organization, which is shared with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Peoria. In helping to fund the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Peoria, it is possible that an endowment, funded by Portcard, could exponentially help inner-city kids and District 150.

What strategies are in place to roll this program out nationally?

We are working with law enforcement agencies and Internet sites that are working on awareness of these issues. We are also working with school systems, both private and public. We have current interests from Lindbergh and Dunlap schools, as well as the local diocese.

We are “Portcarding” entire companies and schools. We currently have two Portcarded companies, and are about to finalize the arrangements with our first school. We are also rolling out Portcard in Peoria, as well as in San Jose, California, in the near-future.

Once our business model was validated and working, we approached the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. They loved the idea, as they wanted to be players in the protection of the next playground for children: the Internet. They did their due diligence, offered us a national partnership and invited us to their “Day for Kids” in six states. BGCA has 4 million children in its programs, and we have committed to working with them.

Who are your competitors in the field?

Mostly companies that provide spyware, which is software that allows a parent to actually monitor what a child does on the Internet. These products create distrust and virtually guarantee that children will not honestly tell their parents of their activities on the Internet or with whom they instant message.

A key to Portcard is to educate parents and students that they should “card” people who contact them on the Internet. If you card everyone who friends you, then Portcard acts like a “safety belt.” Maybe our children will not always wear their seatbelt, but parents can now have that conversation, with the expectation that “carding” will become second nature as a step to protection on the Internet. Our focus groups show this is a “safety concept” that parents believe they can understand, even if they do not fully understand social networks and instant messaging.

What are the next steps for Portcard?

Getting the word out to companies and schools that Portcard is an important tool towards keeping the Internet safer. That is why our motto is: “To Authenticate the Internet for a Better Tomorrow.”

Anything else you would like to add?

Portcard would like the states’ Attorneys General and the major social networking sites to endorse Portcard’s verification service.

A January 14th press release on this issue from MySpace was intended to acknowledge affirmative steps being taken to make the Internet safer, and Portcard applauds these efforts. Yet without identity verification, there is no way for MySpace to confirm the referenced “adults.” Portcard’s solution addresses one of MySpace’s main goals: “Making the profiles of 14- and 15-year-old users automatically private and protecting them from being contacted by adults that they don’t already know in the physical world.”

Recognizing this need for identity verification, MySpace and the Attorneys General formed a task force to develop this technology. Fortunately, Portcard is already providing a private industry verification solution, fully integrated with the social networking site Facebook.com, and is also a national partner with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. IBI