June 10, 2010 -- New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo announced today that he will sue Tagged.com after numerous obscene pictures of underage children were found posted on the popular social networking site.
"This is one of the worst social networking sites that we've encountered," said Andrew Cuomo during an afternoon press conference at his office in lower Manhattan. "Clean up your act or we will see you in court immediately."
Cuomo alleged that Tagged, which was initially targeted at high school students but is now open to users of any age, failed to protect children from exposure to graphic child porn images. Cuomo said that despite claims on the web site that it is dedicated to children's safety and responds to complaints, Tagged did not respond to notifications of inappropriate content. Said Cuomo, "Despite the safety claims listed on its very own Web site, Tagged.com repeatedly looks the other way when sexually explicit material is sent to its underage users,"
During a three-month undercover investigation, investigators from Cuomo's office determined that Tagged had "significant" lapses in responding to user complaints about sexual content involving children. According to investigators, posted material included "graphic images of children being sexually abused, inappropriate sexual communications between adults and minors, and content that advocates pedophilia."
According to Cuomo's office, Tagged did not act after being notified by undercover investigators on April 17 of a user profile that included a slideshow showing children in sexually explicit poses. Tagged also allegedly failed to act after being told of images of a girl who appeared to be under 10 years of age engaged in bestiality. Investigators said they found 29 user profiles on Tagged that included images of children being sexually abused, and that adults on Tagged routinely engage in inappropriate communications with minors.
In December, Cuomo announced that his office was teaming up with social networking giants, including AOL, Google, and Yahoo, to identify the sex offenders lurking on their sites and take them offline.
"Every time a social network goes up and attracts young people you're also attracting those who would prey on young people," said Cuomo at the time. "It's one of the major challenges of law enforcement going forward."
Tagged.com was one of 13 social networking sites that agreed to remove registered sex offenders under the New York Electronic Securing and Targeting of Online Predators Act (e-STOP).
Under e-STOP, convicted sex offenders are required to register their online addresses and screen names with the state. That information can be sent to social networking sites to make sure New York's convicted sex offenders sex are not violating the terms of their parole or probation that limit online interactions.
However, Cuomo's investigators said they had found an unidentified user who used the screen name "criminal sex offender" and admitted to being an offender, and were also informed of another possible convicted sexual offender on Tagged.
Tagged.com, based in San Francisco, was founded in 2004 by Harvard graduates Greg Tseng and Johann Schleier-Smith. It allows users to create their own profile, find friends and "tag" on the walls of friends, among other activities. The site's unique page views have declined in the past year since peaking at 8.5 million in June 2009.
The site's registration practices have been the subject of several legal battles, in which authorities alleged the site harvested personal data to send spam. In November 2009, Cuomo threatened to sue Tagged for invasion of privacy, alleging that it was sending spam, and Tagged agreed to pay $500,000. The site's operators also agreed to change its registration practices to resolve claims that they lured users into providing personal information. A separate threatened suit over spam in Texas cost the site $250,000. In April 2010, Tagged.com agreed to pay $650,000 to the San Francisco District Attorney to settle claims that it sent deceptive spam e-mails to millions of users.
"We are working closely and cooperatively with Attorney General Cuomo's office and hope to resolve this quickly in the best interest of our members' safety," said Louis Willacy, General Counsel of Tagged, Inc. "At Tagged, we strive constantly to improve our program to keep illegal content out and prevent unlawful contact between adults and minors on our site. The safety of our members is a top priority."
Leila Taha contributing reporting to this article.