New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo announced today that his office is investigating Facebook over representations the company makes about safety measures in place on its Web site. 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 site's safety controls and the company's response to complaints -- deficiencies that stand in contrast to the reassuring statements made on the Web site and by company officials.

In recent weeks, investigators from Cuomo's 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. Even more disturbingly, 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 Web site 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 Web site that is aggressively marketed as safe."

During the course of the review, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) 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 e-mail address or any other identifying information in order to register the account.

Within days of opening these accounts, the OAG received numerous sexual solicitations from adults sent to several of the underage profiles.

When undercover OAG 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. The OAG made these complaints to Facebook posing both as underage users as well as parents of underage users.

OAG investigators also lodged several complaints with Facebook about inappropriate content or communications on the Web site. In response, Facebook took down many inappropriate images within a week of receiving our complaints. 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. 

Perhaps most alarmingly, Facebook ignored several -- and repeated -- complaints from the undercover investigators concerning persons who made inappropriate sexual advances to underage users. For instance, on August 30, an OAG investigator created a profile for a fourteen-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?" The investigator lodged a complaint with Facebook as the student's mother complaining that her daughter was being solicited by older men. The next day, Facebook sent a response saying that Facebook "will review the reported material and remove anything that violates our Terms of Use." To date, however, Facebook has taken no further action, and the 24-year old's profile is still available on the Facebook site

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 Web site. The subpoena also calls for all Facebook policies on user safety and all representations made to consumers about the safety of the site.