Facebook subpoenaed over user safety

NEW YORK Mon Sep 24, 2007 3:19pm EDT

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said on Monday his office is investigating Facebook, accusing the social networking site of not keeping young users safe from sexual predators and not responding to user complaints.

In a letter accompanying a subpoena for documents, Cuomo said a preliminary review revealed defects in Facebook's safety controls and in its response to complaints. He said these shortcomings contrast with assurances made by the company.

In recent weeks, investigators conducted undercover tests of Facebook's safety controls and procedures, posing as underage users. The investigators found they were solicited by adult sexual predators and could access pornographic images and videos, Cuomo said.

A spokeswoman for Facebook, based in Palo Alto, California, said the company was aware of the subpoena and is preparing a statement.

In the last year, social networking sites such as Facebook and larger rival MySpace, owned by News Corp, have come under fire from several U.S. state attorney generals concerned that the sites fall short in protecting young users from sexual predators.

In July, the Connecticut Attorney General told Reuters his office had learned of "at least three" convicted sex offenders on Facebook's site and said that may be the "tip of the iceberg."

Facebook has seen a rapid expansion of users since it opened up the site beyond its origins as a college student network to now include older users and high school students.

The New York Attorney General's letter, which was addressed to Mark Zuckerberg, the 23-year-old founder of privately held Facebook, accused the site of failing to match its improvement in safety measures with its expansion ambitions.

"It appears that Facebook has not significantly altered its representations about safety and inappropriate content on the site," said Cuomo.

"It does not have the right to represent that its site is safe and that it promptly responds to complaints when such statements are not accurate."

(Reporting by Joseph A. Giannone and Yinka Adegoke in New York, and Eric Auchard in San Francisco)

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