Facebook settles New York child safety probe

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Facebook Inc, the fast-growing social network Web site, has agreed to settle a child safety probe in New York, the New York state attorney said on Tuesday.

An undated sample of a Facebook profile page. Facebook Inc. has agreed to settle a child safety probe in New York, the state attorney general said on Tuesday. REUTERS/Facebook/Handout

Top social networks Facebook and MySpace, which is part of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, have come under fire from state regulators for failing to do more to police their sites against adults who prey on teenagers, one of the biggest groups using social network sites.

“Social networking sites, popular among young people, have quickly gained members and appeal, but also act as a magnet for those who would prey on the young,” New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said.

The settlement involves no financial penalties.

Under the terms of the settlement, Facebook has agreed to begin addressing any complaint within 24 hours of being told of inappropriate content -- involving such things as nudity, profanity or harassment -- by a user or e-mail correspondent.

The company will tell the complaining party the steps it has taken within 72 hours when the complaint has been submitted via an independent e-mail.

In addition, the Palo Alto, California-based company has agreed to allow an independent examiner to oversee how Facebook handles such complaints. The attorney general will have a say in who gets hired as examiner. The examiner will report to the New York attorney general every six months over a two-year period on Facebook’s compliance.

“The attorney general pointed out some weaknesses in our complaint-handling process,” Facebook Chief Privacy Officer Chris Kelly said. “What he has directed us to do is renew our vigilance around complaint handling.”

Cuomo said late last month that he had subpoenaed Facebook to learn what more the social networking site could do to protect young users from sexual predators and for failing to respond promptly to user complaints about such safety issues.

As part of their probe, state investigators set up undercover accounts and then contacted Facebook, expecting the company to respond rapidly to reports of abusive content.

“We addressed them in a way that we were not happy with,” Kelly said. “There is a real opportunity here to set a standard.”

Facebook is under investigation by a working group of attorneys general representing all 50 U.S. states.

“This agreement is another step toward protecting children on social networking sites but we still have a long way to go,” North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper said in a separate statement. “Our group of attorneys general will keep pushing MySpace, Facebook and other sites to do more.”

Reporting by Paritosh Bansal in New York with additional reporting by Eric Auchard in San Francisco; editing by Gerald E. McCormick