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Feb. 4 --San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera Feb. 3 sued a social networking site alleging the platform improperly distributes teenagers' location information to “sexual predators, stalkers and potentially unscrupulous companies” (People v. MeetMe Inc., Calif. Super. Ct., No. CGC-14-537126, complaint filed 2/3/14).
The complaint, filed on behalf of the people of the state of California, said the purpose of MeetMe, a website and mobile application with 40 million users, is to introduce users to new people and enable them to interact with strangers online and in person. The website and mobile app are products of New Hope, Pa.-based MeetMe Inc.
MeetMe collects geolocation data from users when they log on and uses those data to show subscribers individuals who are nearby and how far away they are, the complaint said. The data also are used to track usage of the products and are passed to third-party vendors for analytics and targeted advertising.
“In other words, MeetMe collects geolocation data from minors and broadcasts that information to unnamed third party vendors and to thousands of other users, including sexual predators, stalkers and other criminals,” the complaint, filed Feb. 3 in California Superior Court, San Francisco, said.
A quarter of MeetMe's users are younger than age 18, and 60 percent of its traffic comes from mobile users, according to the complaint. Filtering software allows users to see the profile photos of users who are close by and of a specific age, such as displaying only 14-year-old girls, the complaint said.
Clicking on a profile photo can give the user's full name, age, hometown and chat history. The default setting provides a user's location and other information to all other subscribers who self-report to be in a similar age group and within a certain range of proximity, not just to a group of “friends” designated by the user, the complaint said.
“We care deeply about the safety of all of MeetMe's users. We review hundreds of thousands of photos posted to our services every day, and we compare the information provided by our users to a sex-offender registry. We employ a 24-7 team that responds to reports from our users and work closely with law enforcement when appropriate to assist in their investigations,” the company said.
The complaint claims violations of the Calif. Bus. & Prof. Code § 17200, the state's Unfair Competition Law, for allegedly distributing minors' geolocation data and personal user data without valid consent. The lawsuit seeks injunctive relief and civil penalties of up to $2,500 per violation.
“These practices--namely the improper distribution of teenagers' location information to sexual predators, stalkers and potentially unscrupulous companies--compromise the privacy, safety and security of millions of minors in California and throughout the country,” the complaint said.
Herrera said in a Feb. 3 statement said MeetMe “has become a tool of choice for sexual predators to target underage victims, and the company's irresponsible privacy policies and practices are to blame for it.”
“MeetMe improperly collects personal information from young teens--including their photos and realtime locations. It then distributes that information in ways that expose children to very serious safety risks. Sadly, these risks aren't hypothetical. Dozens of children nationwide have already been victimized by predators who used MeetMe to coerce minors into meeting,” Herrera said.
In addition to Herrera, Owen Clements, Sara J. Eisenberg, Erin B. Berstein and Matthew D. Goldberg, of the San Francisco City Attorney's Office, represented the city.
To contact the reporter on this story: Joyce E. Cutler in San Francisco at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Katie W. Johnson at email@example.com
Full text of the complaint is available http://www.bloomberglaw.com/public/document/People_of_the_State_of_Calif_v_Meetme_Inc_Docket_No_CGC14537126_C.
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