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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Facebook in NY AG's Cross-hairs

Safe from Predators, or Slow to Cure?

The New York Times reported in its September 25th article
New York Investigating Facebook's Safety Rules by Anne Bernard, that Andrew Cuomo, the New York State Attorney General, is investigating Facebook, the second largest social networking site behind MySpace, for "materially misleading" its customers. From the article:
On its site, Facebook calls itself a “trusted environment,” bans the posting of obscene or harmful material, and promises parents that it will remove offensive messages and photos and act appropriately in response to complaints.

At issue is whether Facebook is actually up to the task. The NY AG conducted what might be called either a "sting operation" or a "controlled test", depending on your perspective. After setting up fictitious profiles of girls (one identifying herself as 13 years old, which is not allowed by Facebook's terms of use, and one as 14), the profiles received (of course) sexual solicitations.

Then the investigators contacted Facebook in the role of the parent, identifying the offending content and profiles, and insisting on action. Neither the posts nor the profiles of the offenders were removed.

And what, exactly, does it mean when the company says,
"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."

It sounds a little like they're sidestepping their own responsibility to enforce their terms of use. A 13 or 14-year-old is not going to have the maturity to protect him- or herself, which is why kids have parents. And so if acting as a parent doesn't deliver the results -- because the company is either unwilling or incapable of acting -- all the user-tools in the world won't help.

I'm interested in what AG Cuomo discovers.

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