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Facebook defends teen security tricks

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RSA Facebook has defended its privacy protection despite the possibility that this has been circumvented for the first time by an alleged sexual predator.

The teen-tastic site's chief privacy officer Chris Kelly told security experts Facebook offers a robust system to protect identities of its 16 million participants and to exclude pedophiles. Facebook uses a combination of algorithms to spot dodgy traffic with "real-world" social techniques.

He rejected employing technology such Zephyr at MySpace, which enables parents to track their children's name, age and sites visited in MySpace, and objected to emailing Facebook participants about potential dangers online and safety steps as tantamount to spam.

Kelly, speaking during an RSA Conference panel on youth and the internet, offered his re-assurances despite an Illinois man having been arrested the day before for allegedly using Facebook to lure a 15-year-old boy while posing as a teenage girl. He told the Chicago Tribune this was the first time Facebook has been used to contact a minor for predatory reasons

Facebook, of course, made its mark as a network for college students, with participants using university-based email address to access the service.

The site is broadening its catchment pool to include school kids. As most schools don't offer pupils email networks, Facebook has introduced a system where new members can be invited to join - presumably by other students.

Highlighting this system's inherent weakness in keeping out adults, Kelly suggested one way for anxious parents to keep an eye on their teens would be to get their own Facebook profile and "befriend" their child online.

But reports that one in seven children are sexually propositioned online has now propelled politicians to act on social networking sites. Bi-partisan legislation was last week introduced by senators John McCain and Charles Schumer that would force offenders to submit their email addresses and online identities and that would allow social networking sites and law enforcement to detect screen out sexual predators. Facebook, like MySpace, are backing the Keeping the Internet Devoid of Sexual Predators (KIDS) Act of 2007.

In the meantime, Facebook is working on a set of tips for online safety for use by schools.®

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