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SF City Attorney: Social Site MeetMe Helps Predators Track Victims

| February 4, 2014
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SF City Attorney Dennis Herrera

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera at a press conference. (Sara Bloomberg/KQED)

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera has filed a lawsuit against the social networking website MeetMe. In the suit, he accuses the site of improperly distributing photos and real-time locations of minors.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of the office’s Consumer Protection Unit, states that MeetMe is violating California Unfair Competition Law by “relying on legally invalid consent” from minors to share personal information, including their location, and for having an inadequate privacy policy.

Herrera says the site is different from Facebook, where people share most information with pre-approved “friends.” Instead, MeetMe is specifically designed to facilitate meetings between strangers and, and it automatically shares updates with any nearby users of a similar age-range.

“(A person) who might be older than 18 years of age can then view the minor’s personal profile, what they look like, their whole chat history, and target them when they’re in their vicinity.”

No Cases Yet in San Francisco

Herrera says there haven’t been any criminal cases tied to MeetMe in San Francisco, but there have been a string of cases across the country where adults have used the site to target teenagers for sex. Last July, police arrested a 21-year old man in Fair Oaks, Calif. for posing as a teenager and having sex at least two underage girls –one of whom was 12– through MeetMe.

In a statement, MeetMe CEO Geoff Cook said the company “cares deeply” about all its users’ safety and operates a website dedicated to online safety education. The website, socialsafety.org, reminds users that “online posts are typically public and can be complicated, if not impossible, to delete.”

The site also warns, “You are responsible for everything you post online,” and gives the example of a 14-year old girl who was threatened with sex offender status after posting explicit pictures of herself to the social networking site MySpace in 2009.

If successful, the suit would force the Pennsylvania-based MeetMe to change its privacy policy and the way it shares information. Herrera is also seeking to recover $2,500 in damages for each violation the suit might uncover in California, and he’s confident that he’ll be successful.

“If we look at the threat that is incurred to young people not just here in California but across the country, it’s been fairly significant. And there’s no doubt that MeetMe is in violation of the Attorney General of California’s guidelines when it comes to how their business practices should work.”

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Category: Law and Justice, Technology

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