Facebook, N.Y. attorney general reach accord

Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo and Facebook chief privacy officer Chris Kelly hold a press conference to announce a plan designed to protect children from predators on the site.

NEW YORK--Facebook appears to be making peace with New York's aggressive attorney general, Andrew M. Cuomo.

At a press conference on Tuesday afternoon at Cuomo's office in downtown Manhattan, the attorney general along with Facebook vice president and chief privacy officer Chris Kelly unveiled a joint plan to address concerns about sexual predators on the fast-growing social-networking site.

"This did start out as an investigation," Kelly explained to the room full of reporters and photographers, "but it has turned into a great cooperative effort that we hope the whole industry will follow."

Cuomo had subpoenaed Facebook last month, claiming that an undercover investigation into the social network had revealed that it misrepresents how safe its service is for minors. His office had issued an open letter to the Mark Zuckerberg-founded company, explaining that investigators posing as underage users of the site (12 to 14 years old) were "repeatedly solicited by adult sexual predators" and that Facebook's response to complaints about harassment was slow at best.

In Tuesday's press conference, Kelly acknowledged that Facebook had "slipped a little bit" in its attentiveness to safety concerns. Cuomo called the end result a "successful conclusion."

With the new plan, Facebook will place user complaints about "nudity, pornography, harassment, (and) unwelcome contact" into a high-priority category that will require a response from the site within 24 hours. "We're committing to a 24-hour service level on addressing those complaints," Kelly asserted. These complaints can be filed anonymously through new links throughout Facebook's site.

Some language on the site will also be altered to make it clear to concerned parents that neither Facebook nor any other site on the Internet is wholly safe for children.

Additionally, Cuomo's office will approve a third-party Independent Safety and Security Examiner (ISSE) to monitor and report on the site for the next two years. A "prominent and easily accessible hyperlink" will allow Facebook users or their parents to provide feedback to the watchdog group.

When asked how the ISSE, who has not yet been appointed, would be compensated, Cuomo responded with two words: "Facebook pays."

Facebook, according to Kelly, now has over 47 million users, 80 percent of which are over the age of 18. Nevertheless, any Web site that's in the spotlight the way Facebook has been for the past few months will experience a degree of legal scrutiny from authorities concerned about children's safety--social networking's last poster child, the News Corp.-owned MySpace, was the target of extensive inquiries on the part of several states' attorneys general with regard to the presence of registered sex offenders on the site.

"We are in discussion with other sites," Cuomo said when asked if his office was targeting any other social networks the way it did with Facebook, but he would not provide any specifics.

 

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