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Facebook failing to combat sexual predators

New York subpoenas Facebook over user safety

Facebook is failing to keep its young users safe from sexual predators, according to New York attorney general Andrew Cuomo.

Cuomo has subpoenaed Facebook because of what he says is the site's lack of controls to protect the safety of its users, despite Facebook’s claims that it makes about the safety measures it has in place on the site.

In a letter sent to Facebook that accompanied a subpoena for documents, Cuomo said his office conducted a preliminary review of the site that "revealed significant defects in the site's safety controls and the company's response to complaints - deficiencies that stand in contrast to the reassuring statements made on the website and by company officials".

Facebook could not be reached for comment.

In recent weeks, investigators from the attorney general's office went undercover to conduct tests on Facebook's safety controls and procedures, according to a statement. Pretending to be underage users, the investigators were solicited by adult sexual predators on Facebook, the attorney general said. In addition, he said investigators were also able to access pornographic images and videos.

"Even more disturbingly, Facebook often did not respond, and at other times was slow to respond, to complaints lodged by the investigators - posing as parents of underage users - asking the site to take action against predators who had harassed their children," the statement said.

Cuomo said his investigators set up several undercover Facebook profiles as users between 12- and 14-years-old. Consistent with its policies, Facebook did not require the investigators posing as underage users to provide any identifying information to set up the accounts, the statement said.

Several days after opening the accounts, the investigators received numerous sexual solicitations from adults who thought they were contacting underage users. However, when the undercover investigators lodged complaints with Facebook as the underage users or as their parents, Facebook mostly ignored the complaints and took no action against the reported sexual predators.

But in response to complaints from the undercover investigators about inappropriate content on the site, Facebook took down many of the inappropriate images, although it did nothing about complaints reporting user groups hosting hardcore pornography, according to the statement. That content is still available to anyone, including underage users, the attorney general said.

"Perhaps most alarmingly, Facebook ignored several - and repeated - complaints from our undercover investigators concerning persons who made inappropriate sexual advances to underage users," the attorney general said.

In the subpoena, Cuomo is asking Facebook to turn over all the complaints it has received about inappropriate solicitation of underage users and inappropriate content on the site, as well as the company's response to those complaints.

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