While Microsoft and Google kick Facebook's tires, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is accusing the fast-growing Web site of making misleading claims about its safety measures.
Microsoft has been widely reported to be negotiating for up to five per cent of Facebook for as much as $500 million. Google is also reported to be interested in acquiring a piece of the fast-growing online social network company.
Besides bidding against each other, the Internet titans now must consider the possible fall-out of Cuomo's allegations.
In a letter accompanying a subpoena for documents, Cuomo warned the company that a preliminary review conducted by his office revealed significant defects in the sites safety controls and the companys response to complaints - deficiencies that stand in contrast to the reassuring statements made on the website and by company officials.
Cuomo said that in recent weeks, investigators from his office have conducted a number of undercover tests of Facebook's safety controls and procedures.
Posing as underage users, the investigators found they were repeatedly solicited by adult sexual predators on Facebook and could easily access a wide range of pornographic images and videos, he said.
Slow to respond
Even worse, said Cuomo, Facebook often did not respond, and at other times was slow to respond to complaints lodged by the investigators - posing as parents of underage users - asking the site to take action against predators who had harassed their children.
My office is concerned that Facebook's promise of a safe website is not consistent with its performance in policing its site and responding to complaints, Cuomo said. Parents have a right to know what their children will encounter on a website that is aggressively marketed as safe.
Cuomo said his team set up several undercover Facebook profiles representing users between twelve and fourteen years old. Consistent with its current open policy, Facebook did not require verification of a high school email address or any other identifying information in order to register the account.
Within days of opening these accounts, the investigators received numerous sexual solicitations from adults sent to several of the underage profiles, including:
• u look too hot....... can i c u online (webcam)? im avl at . . .
• i'd love to get off on cam for you hun ; P
• do you like sex?
• if u want call me [number deleted] or u can give me ur number?
• call me if u want to do sex with me [number deleted] ok
Underage profiles set up by the investigators received several other solicitations of a more graphic nature.
When the undercover investigators lodged complaints with Facebook regarding the inappropriate - and illegal - solicitation of the underage users, Facebook in many instances ignored the complaints and took no action against the reported sexual predators, Cuomo said.
The investigators also lodged several complaints with Facebook about inappropriate content or communications on the website. In response, Facebook took down many inappropriate images within a week of receiving the complaints, Cuomo reported.
"On the other hand, other complaints reporting user groups that hosted hardcore pornography were ignored by Facebook, and the content remains available to all users - including underage users - to this day," he said.
"Perhaps most alarmingly, Facebook ignored several - and repeated - complaints from our undercover investigators concerning persons who made inappropriate sexual advances to underage users," Cuomo said.
For instance, on August 30, an investigator created a profile for a 14-year-old female high school student from New York. Approximately a week later, she received a Facebook message from a 24-year-old man, asking do you have any nude pics?
To date, however, Facebook has taken no further action, and the 24-year olds profile is still available on the Facebook site, Cuomo said.
In subpoenaing the company, Cuomo has asked for complaints received by Facebook regarding inappropriate solicitation of underage users and inappropriate content on the site, as well as any responses by the website. The subpoena also calls for all Facebook policies on user safety and all representations made to consumers about the safety of the site.