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NY probes Facebook over pedophile controls

Questions social networker's commitment to protecting underage users

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Facebook officials have been subpoenaed by New York's top law enforcement official after a preliminary review revealed "significant defects in the site's safety controls" designed to shield underage users from sexual predators.

"The [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," Attorney General Andrew Cuomo wrote in a letter addressed to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg that accompanied the subpoena.

The subpoena demands all documents related to the company's safety and security assurances and the mechanism by which it resolves complaints. A company spokeswoman said officials 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."

The inquiry is the latest example of law enforcement officials scrutinizing a Web 2.0 property for the dangers it may pose to children. In May, MySpace finally agreed to turn over information to seven attorneys general about sex offenders who frequent the site. The News Corp-owned site has long been criticized by some as a haven for pedophiles.

Under-age profile

Monday's demand on Facebook follows a review in which investigators posed as underage users and their parents to gauge the networking site's commitment to protecting teen users. One investigator, for instance, created the profile of a fourteen-year-old girl from New York. About a week later she received a message from a 24-year-old Facebook user asking "do you have any nude pics?"

Then, posing as the mother of the girl, the investigator lodged a complaint with Facebook, sending an email that said her daughter was being solicited by older men. The man's profile remains available on the site, according to Cuomo.

In a separate incident, an investigator posed as the parent of a 13-year-old girl who had received a message from an adult Facebook user who said: "love your pic. you've got quite a hot little bod - must be the dancing. i see you're in nyc like me. where do you like to hang out?"

Facebook never responded to the investigator's complaint.

Cuomo said the lack of response was at odds with assurances made on a section of the site devoted to safety, which among other things calls Facebook a "trusted environment for people to interact safely" and says company officials "have invested heavily in building safety and privacy controls into Facebook".

"The OAG is concerned that Facebook's public statements and advertising may be materially misleading and may constitute violations of New York General Business Law."

A Facebook spokeswoman defended the company's privacy and safety controls.

"We take the concerns of the Office of the New York Attorney General very seriously," the statement read. "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."

The Facebook statement didn't elaborate on the types of tools being offered. ®

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