Facebook under pressure to protect kids

Facebook, the second-largest social-networking site, must respond within "a few weeks" to requests by state attorneys general that it do more to protect kids from sexual predators, says Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal.

"If Facebook slams the door, we would consider legal options," says Blumenthal, who has negotiated with Facebook. He says the company must verify users' ages, among other things, and he expects a response within a month.

Blumenthal says Facebook "talked the right talk" at a meeting Sept. 17, but "it has a long way to go before we'll be satisfied."

A group of attorneys general has been investigating and negotiating with the rapidly growing company. Blumenthal said in July that investigators in his state found that at least three convicted sex offenders had profiles on Facebook.

New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said this week that his investigators, who posed as young teens on the site, received sexual advances from adults and readily accessed pornographic images. Cuomo subpoenaed Facebook for documents on the security it promises its 43 million users and how it resolves complaints. He said Facebook should not promote itself as a safe website unless it protects kids.

Facebook, based in Palo Alto, Calif., declined to comment. It released a statement Monday that said it was taking Cuomo's concerns "very seriously." The statement read, "As our service continues to grow so does our responsibility to our users to empower them with the tools necessary to communicate efficiently and safely."

Attorneys general have increasingly pressured social-networking sites to improve safety for kids. MySpace, the largest such site, launched a database in May that checks its users against sex-offender registries.

It has deleted the profiles of at least 29,000 offenders, some of whom were on parole and have since been sent back to prison because using the site violated conditions of their parole.

Fewer predators appear to be soliciting kids on Facebook than on MySpace, but that may change now that Facebook allows anyone to register, says North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper.

Facebook, launched in a Harvard dorm room in February 2004, was initially open only to college students. In 2005, it allowed in high school students and last year opened up to everyone.

Cooper says the attorneys general want Facebook to require parental consent before someone under 18 can register and to verify the ages of its users.

Social-networking companies say adults' ages can be verified by searching public databases such as driver's license records but verifying children's ages is tricky. Michael Angus, chief counsel at MySpace, said in a June interview that his company has yet to find a way to do it reliably.