Facebook slammed over sex offender profiles

Facebook has come under fire from a US state attorney general who is accusing the fast-growing social networking site of falling short in protecting young users from sexual predators on its site.

Facebook slammed over sex offender profiles

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal claims his office has learned of “at least three” convicted sex offenders on Facebook’s site and that may be the “tip of the iceberg.”

“These individuals are using their real names after convictions for felony sexual offences,” Blumenthal claims. “There may be thousands or hundreds of thousands using aliases or false identities who have never been convicted.”

Last week, MySpace said it had deleted 29,000 convicted sex offenders from its own service, which attracts 60 million US visitors.

Started in 2004 by then-undergraduate Mark Zuckerberg as a socialising site for fellow Harvard University students, Facebook opened up more than a year ago to allow users of all ages to create personal profiles to share with friends.

Facebook, with privacy features encouraging members to share personal details like phone numbers, political loyalties or dating status for an approved circle of friends, has grown by more than a third to 33 million members in the past two months.

Chief Privacy Officer, Chris Kelly, claims Facebook has privacy features unlike other social network sites that segment users by age, organisation and region and make it hard for adults to contact users under the age of 18.

In particular, Facebook protects users under 18 by preventing adults from contacting them if the adults are not affiliated with a specific school network, Kelly says.

Kelly acknowledges Facebook has detected sexual predators and other abusive practices on the site but said the numbers are small. “There is a non-zero number. We have been able to handle abuses with the accountability of having a real-name culture versus a ‘screen-name’ culture,” he claims.

Kelly says Facebook had been notified by the Connecticut attorney general’s office of three specific profiles set up by known sex offenders and that the Palo Alto, California-based company had quickly removed these web pages.

“There is no city in existence, let alone one that has 33 million citizens, that doesn’t have occasional crime,” Kelly says. “The question is: Does the site make it easier or harder to commit crimes and what does it do to address them?”

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