NY Attorney General Subpoenas Facebook

Q Boyer
NEW YORK — The Attorney General of New York announced Monday that his office is investigating Facebook.com over “representations the company makes about safety measures in place on its website,” and said that the site is not living up to its claims.

In a letter accompanying a subpoena for documents, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo warned Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg that a preliminary review conducted by Cuomo’s office revealed significant problems with the site’s safety controls, and its response to complaints from users.

“The [office of the Attorney General] is concerned that Facebook’s public statements and advertising may be materially misleading and may constitute violations of New York General Business Law §§ 349 and 350 and Executive Law § 63(12),” Cuomo wrote in the letter to Zuckerberg.

Cuomo noted that in its marketing and promotional materials, as well as in public statements made by company officials, Facebook has claimed that it is a “trusted environment for people to interact safely,” that it has “invested heavily in building safety controls,” and that it “quickly takes down any objectionable material that may be posted to the site.”

During its review of Facebook, however, Cuomo said his office documented “a reality that seems to differ materially from the image that Facebook has portrayed to the public.”

In the course of its review, Cuomo’s office set up several Facebook profiles representing users between the ages of 12 and 14. According to Cuomo’s letter to Zuckerberg, within days of opening the accounts, the fake users established by Cuomo’s office had received “numerous sexual solicitations from adults,” including messages stating “u look too hot … can I c u online (webcam)?” and “call me if u want to do sex with me.”

According to Cuomo, when his investigators submitted complaints to Facebook regarding the illegal solicitation of its fake underage users, “Facebook in many instances ignored the complaints and took no action against the reported sexual predators.”

Cuomo also complained in his letter of “widespread pornographic and obscene content,” saying that his investigators found a wide range of such content on Facebook “with a minimal amount of effort.”

“For example, a number of individuals on the site have graphic pornographic images as their profile picture, which is available to all users of the site,” Cuomo wrote. “Others only have obscene pictures and videos posted on their Facebook page for their friends to see.”

Cuomo also noted that, despite the fact that under Facebook’s terms of service users agree not to “upload, post, transmit, share, store or otherwise make available any content that we deem to be harmful, threatening, unlawful, defamatory, infringing, abusive, inflammatory, harassing, vulgar, obscene, fraudulent, invasive of privacy or publicity rights, hateful, or racially, ethnically or otherwise objectionable,” there are groups on Facebook that appear entirely dedicated to content that constitutes one or more things from that list of prohibited types of content.

“There are also a large number of Facebook groups dedicated solely to hosting or promoting pornographic content, such as ‘Best Wet T-shirt or best boobie pic contest’ and ‘For girls that love to share naked pics,’” Cuomo wrote in his letter. “Underage users are free to view or join any of these groups without restriction.”

What Cuomo was most taken aback by, however, was Facebook’s lack of response to complaints, including complaints about adult users soliciting minor users for sex.

“Perhaps most alarmingly, Facebook ignored several — and repeated — complaints from our undercover investigators concerning persons who made inappropriate sexual advances to underage users,” Cuomo wrote. “The OAG made these complaints to Facebook both as underage users and as parents of underage users.”

In a statement issued late Monday, Facebook responded to Cuomo’s letter and press release, saying “We take the concerns of the office of the New York attorney general very seriously.”

“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,” Facebook said in its statement. “We strive to uphold our high standards for privacy on Facebook and are constantly working on processes and technologies that will further improve safety and user control on the site. 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.”

Read Cuomo's letter to Facebook