Facebook Investigated For Failing To Protect Users From Sexual Predators

Sep 25, 2007 (11:09 AM EDT)

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New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said Monday that his office is investigating Facebook with regard to representations made by the social networking site about the measures it has taken to protect its users from sexual predators.

In a letter dated September 24th, Cuomo said that investigators posing as underage users uncovered evidence that underage users are targeted by sexual predators on Facebook, that there is widespread pornographic and obscene content on the site, and that complaints addressed to Facebook staff are dealt with slowly, sporadically, and inconsistently.

"The OAG [Office of the Attorney General] is concerned that in Facebook's efforts to grow, the company may be giving a lower priority to the safety and welfare of its users, and in particular, underage users," the letter says. "To be clear, within the constraints of the law, Facebook has the right to operate any type of Web site it deems fit. However, it does not have the right to represent that its site is safe and that it promptly responds to complaints when such statements are not accurate."

According to the Cuomo, within days of setting up fake profiles for 12-year-old to 14-year-old users, OAG investigators "received numerous sexual solicitations from adults sent to several of the underage profiles..."

The letter says that the OAG has subpoenaed information about Facebook's safety and security measures, as well as its complaint resolution mechanism.

In an e-mailed statement to InformationWeek, Facebook said that it plans to cooperate with the investigation.

"We take the concerns of the Office of the New York Attorney General very seriously," said Facebook spokesperson Brandee Barker. "As our service continues to grow, so does our responsibility to our users to empower them with the tools necessary to communicate efficiently and safely. We strive to uphold our high standards for privacy on Facebook and are constantly working on processes and technologies that will further improve safety and user control on the site. We are committed to working closely with all the state attorneys general to maintain a trusted environment for all Facebook users and to demonstrate the efficacy of these efforts."

Facebook's troubles mirror those of MySpace, which addressed its security last year after a string of high-profile cases. On May 1st, 2006, MySpace hired Hemanshu Nigam, Microsoft's director of consumer security outreach and child-safe computing, as its chief security officer in an effort to repair its image as a haunt for pedophiles.

Facebook's executive management page doesn't list a chief security officer or chief privacy officer. At some point soon, it probably will.