Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo and Facebook announced a new model to enforce safeguards aimed at protecting its network members, especially children and adolescents, from sexual predators, obscene content and harassment.
Under the terms of the settlement, Facebook will begin enforcing its safety procedures promptly responding to user complaints about nudity or pornography or harassment or unwelcome contact within 24 hours, and allowing an Independent Safety and Security Examiner (ISSE), a third party examiner, approved by the New York State Attorney General, to report on Facebook’s compliance for two years. Facebook has about 47 million users.
“Social networking sites, popular among young people, have quickly gained members and appeal, but also act as a magnet for those who would prey on the young,” said Attorney General Cuomo.
“Our agreement with Facebook offers a new model of cooperative action that balances the freedom offered by the internet with the necessary protections for children traveling on the information superhighway.”
Under the terms of the agreement Facebook will:
* Disclose the newly implemented safety procedures on its website as specified by the agreement. Ensure that all other public statements made by Facebook about safety are consistent with the specified language.
* Accept complaints about nudity or pornography, harassment or unwelcome contact confidentially via hyperlinks placed throughout Facebook’s website as well as via an independent email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
* Respond to and begin addressing complaints about nudity or pornography, harassment or unwelcome contact within 24 hours.
* Report to the complainant the steps it has taken to address the complaint within 72 hours where the complaint has been submitted via an independent email to email@example.com.
* Allow Facebook’s complaint review process to be examined by an Independent Safety and Security Examiner (ISSE), a third party approved by the New York State Attorney General’s Office, to report on Facebook’s compliance with the agreement.
* Provide a prominent and easily accessible hyperlink to allow a Facebook user or their parent/guardian to give feedback to the Independent Safety and Security Examiner (ISSE) about Facebook’s performance in responding to complaints.
* Submit to the Office reports prepared by the Independent Safety and Security Examiner (ISSE) evaluating Facebook’s performance in responding to complaints. The Examiner will report bi-annually and may recommend additional safety measures concerning complaint handling, as appropriate.
“I applaud Facebook for addressing my office’s concerns about the site’s representation that they provided a safe environment and an expeditious complaint review process,” said Cuomo. “I believe our agreement will provide additional confidence to young people and parents alike and give Facebook a competitive advantage in the marketplace for setting a new standard for safety.”
“Privacy and safety have been a priority since we first built Facebook,” said Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO, Facebook.
“Our agreement with Attorney General Cuomo will set new industry standards to stop abuse online. We applaud the Attorney General's leadership and are committed to working together to keep Facebook safe.”
The settlement, designed to set the industry standards for safety, comes on the heels of a subpoena issued by the Attorney General’s Office less than a month ago.
In a letter, accompanying the subpoena for documents, Cuomo had warned Facebook that it could potentially face consumer fraud charges for failing to live up to its claims that youngsters on the website were safer from sexual predators than at most sites and that it promptly responds to concerns. Facebook had also represented itself as a “trusted environment for people to interact safely” and a website invested heavily in “building safety controls.”
Cuomo’s investigators had exposed serious deficiencies in Facebook's safety controls. Investigators, posing as young teenagers, set up profiles on Facebook, received online sexual advances from adults within days, and found widespread pornographic and obscene content.
Additionally, the investigation found that Facebook often failed to 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 that had harassed their children.
The agreement is designed to step up efforts to improve safety on social networking sites, which adults, teenagers and children use to post pictures of themselves, link to friends’ sites and share personal information.
Anyone can sign up for free by choosing a user name and password and providing an e-mail address. Users can then set up a personal page.
Attorney General Cuomo also advised parents to take preventive steps to keep their children safe and issued tips on How to Occupy Space on Social Networking Websites Safely:
Be cautious about sharing your personal information online that can be used to locate you offline. This includes your screen name, personal photos, hobbies, social security numbers, address, phone number, bank or credit card number. Remember, websites for underage users are not permitted to request personal information without a parent's permission.
Do not share information online that you would not share offline – there are no “Takebacks.” Once information is posted online, it cannot be removed. If deleted or modified, older versions continue to exist online. Share or information that is appropriate for the public. Remember, colleges and potential employers may rely on a social networking website to check you out. Use Privacy Settings to restrict access. Social networking websites provide a variety of privacy settings that can restrict access to personal information. These settings block unknown individuals from breaking into your account and misusing your profile and information.
Install safeguarding programs with monitoring or filtering capabilities. Your online service provider may offer these services. Setting up a monitoring product is like a having a camera in the corner of your local bank – it can help collect evidence for law enforcement and trace a predator, if necessary.
Watch out for unsolicited messages and emails. Do not respond to emails or download attachments you are not expecting. Some viruses can “spoof” the name and email address of friends and fool users into an unwanted online relationship.
Beware of inappropriate or threatening online behavior. Risky online behavior can lead to cyber crimes. It may start with an online stranger following you into chat rooms, breaking into your account, abusing your personal information, sending you sexual solicitations or signing you up for porn sites and IM. Pay attention to these predators. Most social websites do not have the capability to verify ages or information of their users.
If in doubt, report it! If you believe that a predator is communicating with you or your child, you must report it. In every case where a child is molested or killed by an Internet sexual predator, law enforcement find messages sent to the predator by parents threatening to report them. Do not hesitate to report it.