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Facebook Commits To Stronger Safety And Privacy Measures

Facebook is working with state officials to protect young users of its social networking service.
Facebook on Thursday said that it has agreed to work with the Attorneys General of 49 states and the District of Columbia to protect young users of its social networking service.

"Building a safe and trusted online experience has been part of Facebook from its outset," said Facebook chief privacy officer Chris Kelly in a statement. "We are proud to join 49 states and the District of Columbia in affirming our commitment to these principles and to continue improving our technology and policy solutions to keep kids safer on Facebook. The Attorneys General have shown great leadership in helping to address the critical issue of Internet safety and we commend them for continuing to set high standards for all players in the online arena."

What the Attorneys General have shown may not be leadership so much as legal threats. New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo began investigating Facebook in September 2007 for failing to adequately protect minors from sexual predators.

The following month Facebook agreed to respond to complaints about nudity, pornography, harassment, or unwanted contact with 24 hours. Other Attorneys General at the time said more needed to be done.

Facebook now seems to agree with that assessment. It reaffirmed its participation in the Internet Safety Task Force, which came about through MySpace's agreement with the Attorney's General in January, and is promising to take specific steps to reduce the exposure of minors using its site to unwanted content and contact.

"Social networks that encourage kids to come to their sites have a responsibility to keep those kids safe," said North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper in a statement. "We've now gotten the two largest social networking sites to agree to take significant steps to protect children from predators and pornography."

The principles to which Facebook has agreed commit the social networking site to making significant design and functionality changes that (1) prevent underage users from accessing the site; (2) protect minors from inappropriate contact; (3) protect minors from inappropriate content; (4) provide safety tools for all social networking site users.

Facebook has also agreed to make third-party developers and advertisers adhere to its safety and privacy rules. This may further dim the promise of social network advertising by insulating young users from marketing. Social networks have to date proven more difficult to monetize than expected, as executives from Google and News Corp. have acknowledged.