New York Attorney General Issues Subpoena to Facebook Amid Concerns for Safety of Its Underage Users

The Office New York State Attorney General (“OAG”) Andrew Cuomo subpoenaed Facebook for documents related to Facebook’s safety and security representations and complaint resolution mechanisms. The OAG stated that it is concerned that Facebook’s public statements and advertising may be materially misleading and may constitute violations of General Business Law 349 and 350 and Executive Law 63(12). According to the OAG’s letter to Facebook, the OAG, after a preliminary review of Facebook.com, has uncovered evidence demonstrating that (1) underage users are targeted by sexual predators on Facebook, (2) there is widespread pornographic and obscene content of Facebook, and (3) Facebook’s response to user and parental complaints is slow, sporadic and inconsistent. The OAG is especially concerned these problems are not being adequately addressed and will worsen over time.

Cuomo pointed out that prior to September 2005, Facebook justifiably promoted the exclusivity and safety of the site, which at the time served only verified university students. (The efficacy of this college based system showed itself this past week when an armed student came onto the campus of St. John’s University in Queens, New York, and an alert was sent to all Facebook registered students within minutes, in contrast to the tragic shooting.)

Since that time, Facebook has dramatically expanded its user base, first by allowing high school students and older students to host profiles and use the site, and then by abandoning its traditional closed network and allowing anyone at all to use Facebook.

OAG said the shortcomings contrasted with assurances made by the company which has not significantly altered its representations about safety and inappropriate content on the site notwithstanding the presence of a significant community under the age of 18.

In recent weeks, New York state investigators have gone undercover to test Facebook’s safety controls and procedures, posing as underage users. The investigators were solicited by adult sexual predators and could access pornographic images and videos, Cuomo said.

A spokeswoman for Facebook, based in Palo Alto, California, said the company was aware of the subpoena and was preparing a statement. Cuomo’s subpoena came amid a joint 50-state investigation into Facebook, News Corp’s My Space site and other online social networks. Such sites have come under scrutiny over concerns they may fall short in protecting young users.

Separately on September 24, 2007, the Wall Street Journal reported that Microsoft Corp was in talks to buy a minority stake in Facebook that could value the company at $10 billion or more in total. Citing sources familiar with the matter, the Journal said Microsoft sought to buy up to 5 percent of Facebook for $300 million to $500 million.

The personal injury lawyers at Levine & Slavit have decades of experience handling personal injury claims including those involving violations of General Business Law section 349. For 50 years spanning 3 generations, we have obtained results for satisfied clients. Contact the personal injury lawyers at Levine & Slavit for their help. We have offices in Manhattan and Long Island, handling cases in New York City, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and surrounding areas.

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