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Facebook in futile attempt to block perverts from Graph Searching for teens

Flawed system relies on kids - and adults - being honest about their age

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Facebook has attempted to flatten fears about perverts using the company's Graph Search function to prey on teenagers on the network, by saying that controls would be in place to protect young people.

The Graph Search feature, which is currently in beta, was announced by Facebook in January. It is only available to a small number of people using the English (US) version of the site.

However, concerns have already been raised about the possibility of adults being able to search for teenagers studying at a specific school, for example.

For that reason, Facebook has explained how the service would work for youngsters using the network.

As with all of our products, we designed Graph Search to take into account the unique needs of teens on Facebook. On Facebook, many things teens are likely to do - such as adding information to their timelines or sharing status updates - can only be shared with a maximum of Friends of Friends.

In addition, for certain searches that could help to identify a young person by age or by their location, results will only show to that person's Friends, or Friends of Friends who are also between the age of 13-17.

Arguably though, there is a major flaw within those perceived safeguards.

Facebook openly admits that it can't always be certain someone is the age they say they are. Policing the identities of 1 billion people online is a massive task and not one that is actually enforced by Facebook, given that it doesn't request - for example - copies of someone's passport or driving licence when they sign up to the site.

In other words, there are no controls in place to prevent a male adult from claiming to be a 14-year-old girl who attends a local school. He could then quite easily befriend kids on the network and then use Graph Search for online grooming purposes.

Facebook has an age restriction of 13 for the site, but many kids under that age are understood to be connected to the network. All of this makes it even more surprising that Graph Search - which relies heavily on revealing information to friends-of-friends - isn't limited to being an adults-only playpen. ®

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