Facebook's legal issues escalate as N.Y. attorney general strengthens warnings

Following a subpoena for documents last week, the office of Attorney General Andrew Cuomo warns the social-networking site that it may face consumer fraud charges for misrepresenting the strength of its safety infrastructure.

The office of New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo has stepped up its warnings against social-networking site Facebook, with a representative from the office saying the company may face a consumer fraud charge for misrepresenting how safe the site is for minors. The problem, according to an Associated Press story, is that Facebook claims its closed-site model makes the service safer for minors than other social networks, and that privacy and harassment concerns receive prompt responses.

The attorney general's office says those asserations simply aren't true. "We expect an immediate correction eliminating the dangers exposed by our investigation," AG spokesman Jeffrey Lerner told the AP. Lerner added that now that Facebook has grown far beyond its roots as a small social-networking site that required a .edu e-mail address from select colleges to access content, stronger safety tactics are necessary.

Last week, Cuomo's office issued an open letter (click here for PDF) to Facebook accompanied by a subpoena for documents, claiming that an undercover investigation revealed that investigators posing as young users of the site (12 to 14 years old) were "repeatedly solicited by adult sexual predators." The most troubling part, the attorney general's office asserted, was that Facebook apparently had been slow or unresponsive in addressing many of the complaints that were lodged as investigators posed as both minors and parents of minors.

"We take the concerns of the Office of the New York Attorney General very seriously," Facebook representative Brandee Barker told the press in a statement. "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...We are committed to working closely with all the state attorneys general to maintain a trusted environment for all Facebook users and to demonstrate the efficacy of these efforts."

Facebook confirmed to CNET News.com that it has not yet issued an updated statement to reflect the newer threat of a consumer fraud charge.

To Web users following the social media phenomenon, this is almost--but not quite--a rehash of the situation earlier this year in which a group of state attorneys general requested that MySpace, then at the forefront of U.S. social networking, turn over the names of registered sex offenders with profiles on the site.

MySpace initially responded that state and federal privacy laws stood in the way of disclosing that data, but the News Corp.-owned site eventually complied and turned over the requested information.

About the author

Caroline McCarthy, a CNET News staff writer, is a downtown Manhattanite happily addicted to social-media tools and restaurant blogs. Her pre-CNET resume includes interning at an IT security firm and brewing cappuccinos.

 

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