Facebook and MySpace boot sex offenders, hand over info to police
In a major crackdown on Internet predators, more than 3,500 convicted New York sex fiends have been booted from two online social networking sites, sources told the Daily News.
The pervs were kicked off Facebook and MySpace in the first sweep of registered sex offenders under the Electronic Security and Targeting of Online Predators Act (e-STOP), a 2008 law Attorney General Andrew Cuomo aggressively pushed.
“This should really be a wakeup call for everybody, whether it’s parents watching what their kids do online, and all the law enforcement groups and authorities, and the sites themselves,” one source familiar of the mass Facebook and MySpace purges said.
Laura Ahearn, executive director of Parents for Megan’s Law and the Crime Victims Center, said the fact thousands of offenders were dumped proves the law is working.
“Before e-STOP sexual predators freely lurked in social networking sites trolling for innocent victims,” she said.
“With e-STOP, Attorney General Cuomo has sent a clear message that there is a new sheriff in the cyberworld protecting our most vulnerable.”
‘Depressed’ woman loses sick leave benefits over Facebook pics
A Quebec woman on long-term sick leave is fighting to have her benefits reinstated after her employer’s insurance company cut them, she says, because of photos posted on Facebook.
Nathalie Blanchard, 29, has been on leave from her job at IBM in Bromont, Que., for the last year and a half after she was diagnosed with major depression.
The Eastern Townships woman was receiving monthly sick-leave benefits from Manulife, her insurance company, but the payments dried up this fall.
When Blanchard called Manulife, the company said that “I’m available to work, because of Facebook,” she told CBC News this week.
She said her insurance agent described several pictures Blanchard posted on the popular social networking site, including ones showing her having a good time at a Chippendales bar show, at her birthday party and on a sun holiday — evidence that she is no longer depressed, Manulife said.
Blanchard said she notified Manulife that she was taking a trip, and she’s shocked the company would investigate her in such a manner and interpret her photos that way.
“In the moment I’m happy, but before and after I have the same problems” as before, she said.
Blanchard said that on her doctor’s advice, she tried to have fun, including nights out at her local bar with friends and short getaways to sun destinations, as a way to forget her problems.
She also doesn’t understand how Manulife accessed her photos because her Facebook profile is locked and only people she approves can look at what she posts.
Her lawyer Tom Lavin said Manulife’s investigation was inappropriate.
“I don’t think for judging a mental state that Facebook is a very good tool,” he said, adding that he has requested another psychiatric evaluation for Blanchard.
“It’s not as if somebody had a broken back and there was a picture of them carrying …a load of bricks,” Lavin said. “My client was diagnosed with a major depression. And there were pictures of her on Facebook, in a party or having a good time. It could be that she was just trying to escape.”
Manulife wouldn’t comment on Blanchard’s case, but in a written statement sent to CBC News, the insurer said: “We would not deny or terminate a valid claim solely based on information published on websites such as Facebook.” It confirmed that it uses the popular social networking site to investigate clients.
Insurance companies must weigh information found on such sites, said Claude Distasio, a spokeswoman for the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association.
“We can’t ignore it, wherever the source of the information is,” she said. “We can’t ignore it.”
Blanchard estimated she’s lost thousands of dollars in benefits since Manulife changed her claim.
Legal system loses the little credibility it had left
We’ve all read about bonehead criminals getting caught because of social networks, or people’s online lives coming back to haunt them in divorce proceedings—but can Facebook actually help you in court? The answer is yes, at least for one New York teen, who is free after he provided probably the first ever Facebook alibi.
Rodney Bradford was picked up for a robbery in October. Unh-uh, he said. Look at my status update.
Sure enough, he was logged on to Facebook in a different borough typing something about pancakes—street slang, the New York Times adds, helpfully—at exactly the time the robbery was committed. His lawyer argued the point and got the charges dropped.
Hold on, you say. Couldn’t someone else have logged in with his info to manufacture an alibi? “This implies a level of criminal genius that you would not expect from a young boy like this,” his lawyer counters. “He is not Dr. Evil.”
Full story here.
‘Control Your Info’, privacy advocates hijack Facebook groups
Hundreds of Facebook groups have been hijacked in recent days by users pointing out what they say is a weakness in how the social-networking site handles the administration of its groups.
By Tuesday morning, 286 groups had apparently been renamed Control Your Info and had a new message posted to their walls.
“Hello, we hereby announce that we have officially hijacked your Facebook group,” the message reads. “This means we control a certain part of the information about you on Facebook. If we wanted we could make you appear in a bad way which could damage your image severly [sic].”
According to Control Your Info, when Facebook group administrators step down, anyone else can take over their duties — giving them access to members’ personal information, the ability to send messages to all members of the group and the authority to make changes to that group.
“For example we could rename your group and call it something very inappropriate and nasty like ‘I Support Pedophiles’ Rights,’ ” the message continued. “But have no fear. We won’t.”
Among the groups renamed “Control Your Info” on Tuesday were a “Twilight” fan group, supporters of a high school football team and patrons of a Virginia winery.
In a statement, Facebook said no confidential information has been placed at risk.
“The groups in question have been abandoned by their previous owners, which means any group member has the option to make themselves an administrator in order to continue communication to the group. Group administrators have no access to confidential information and group members can leave a group at any time,” said a Facebook spokesperson.
“For small groups, administrators can simply edit a group name or info, moderate discussion, and message group members. The names of large groups cannot be changed nor can anyone message all members.
“In the rare instances when we find that a group has been changed inappropriately, we will disable the group,” the spokesperson said.
Full story here.
‘Spam king’ Sanford Wallace ordered to pay Facebook $711M
Judge Jeremy Fogel of the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of California granted Facebook’s application for a default judgment against Wallace for violating the Can-Spam Act, which bans “false and misleading” marketing e-mails. Fogel also found that Wallace “willfully violated” a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction issued in the case and referred the matter to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for prosecution of criminal contempt.
“The record demonstrates that Wallace willfully violated the statutes in question with blatant disregard for the rights of Facebook and the thousands of Facebook users whose accounts were compromised by his conduct,” Fogel wrote in his judgment order, which also permanently prohibits Wallace from accessing the Facebook Web site or creating a Facebook account, among other restrictions.
Facebook said the order should serve as a strong deterrent against spammers.
“While we don’t expect to receive the vast majority of the award, we hope that this will act as a continued deterrent against these criminals,” Sam O’Rourke, Facebook’s lead counsel for litigation and intellectual property, wrote in a Facebook blog post. “This is another important victory in our fight against spam. We will continue to pursue damages against other spammers.”
Check CNet for full story
32-year-old man held on Facebook murder case
The 32-year-old man has been arrested after he led detectives to a field where they found the body of Ashleigh Hall, 17, in Sedgefield, County Durham, after allegedly telling them “I killed a girl”.
Ashleigh had left her home in Darlington where she lived with her four sisters on Sunday night, telling her mother she was staying with a friend.
But the childcare student had secretly arranged to meet a man she had been chatting with on Facebook near a Little Chef restaurant on a road known locally as “lover’s lane”. She had told friends it was a 16-year-old boy.
On Monday lunchtime when Ashleigh had not returned home, her mother, Andrea Hall, 39, became concerned and frantically called her daughter’s mobile phone to find out where she was, but could not get a reply.
The 32-year-old suspect was picked up by patrol officers later on Monday afternoon after automatic numberplate recognition cameras had detected he was driving without insurance.
While he was waiting in a police cell in Middlesbrough, he asked to speak to a detective, saying “I have killed a girl”, sources said.
It is believed that when the teenager got into the suspect’s car, a dark blue Ford Mondeo, he used gaffer tape to gag her.
He has told police that she “accidentally” suffocated, and he then dumped the body, according to sources.
He led police to where her body was dumped, close to the junction of the A689 and A177 roads.
Police chiefs and child safety experts have issued a warning about the dangers of using the internet to date strangers as it emerged the victim had met the suspect on a social networking website.
Danny Fisher, 17, a student from Darlington, a friend of Ashleigh, said: “I heard that she had been talking with a man on Facebook. He told her was 16, but obviously it looks like that was a lie.”
At a press conference, Det Chief Insp Paul Harker said it was a “very tragic case” and added: “My message in terms of meeting people from the internet is please do not do it unless you are absolutely certain it is safe.”
He urged parents to monitor their children’s use of the web.
“Speak to them about it, speak to their friends, let them know the dangers of the internet,” he said.LMK ends
The message was backed by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, which receives 500 reports a week about suspect behaviour and advises parents to stay in touch with how their children use the net.
A spokesman said: “We realise this may be difficult, because teenagers may resent their privacy being disturbed, but it is not a question of intruding, it is just important to know where they are going online.”
An NSPCC spokesman urged children to speak out if they felt concerns about someone’s behaviour online.
“It is not a good idea to arrange to meet people that you have chatted to online, as you can never be sure they are who they say they are,” he said.
The victim’s family was too upset to talk last night at their home in Warwick Square, Darlington, but friends of the teenager, who was studying at Darlington College, paid tribute to a “bubbly” girl who was “always smiling”.
James Hyde, 18, from Darlington, said: “She has four little sisters and she was always looking out for them. She loved them.”
Elisha Currie, 17, a nursery assistant from Darlington, said: “I did a work placement with Ashleigh at a nursery for about four months over the summer.
“She was a really bubbly person. She was always really helpful and great with the children.
“All the girls that knew her at the nursery said she was a great girl and had a great personality.”
Officers said that the suspect originally gave two different names for himself, but they have now established his identity and that he has a conviction for a sex offence. Officers are tracing his previous crimes and believe that he may have flouted the rules of the sex offenders’ register by moving address without notifying police.
Ashleigh’s body was fully clothed when it was found and there was no indication the girl had been sexually assaulted, police confirmed.
Scott Wright, 28, who lives on the lane where it the body was discovered said that he saw police inspecting a ditch while a man was apparently handcuffed in the back of a car.
“He had fair hair which was shaved and he was staring at the spot where the body was,” he said.
Peter Martin, a farmer whose land it was on, said: “This is a deserted road most of the time but we do get people using it as a lovers’ lane because it is so quiet.”
Facebook will give the option to “memorialise” profiles
Facebook has announced that it will be giving friends and family the option to “memorialise” the profiles of members who have died.
It follows some cases of members receiving updates about dead friends.
If a user is reported as deceased, Facebook will remove sensitive information such as status updates and contacts.
When reporting a death, users must offer “proof” by submitting either an obituary or news article.
“When someone leaves us, they don’t leave our memories or our social network,” Max Kelly, head of security at the firm, wrote in the official Facebook blog.
“To reflect that reality, we created the idea of “memorialised” profiles as a place where people can save and share their memories of those who’ve passed.”
Memorialised accounts will have new privacy settings so that only confirmed friends can see the profile or locate it in search.
Contact information and status updates will be removed and the person will no longer appear in the newly-introduced Suggestions panel which, according to its blog it is designed “to remind people to take actions with friends who need help on Facebook”.
But there have been some some cases where people were ‘reminded’ about dead friends or relatives.
“We understand how difficult it can be for people to be reminded of those who are no longer with them, which is why it’s important when someone passes away that their friends or family contact Facebook to request that a profile be memorialised,” Mr Kelly wrote in his blog.
In separate news, Facebook has once again been targeted by cybercriminals.
Security firm Websense has reported thousands of fake messages, purporting to come from Facebook Support, with a malicious payload.
The fake message invites users to download a new password as part of ongoing security messages.
If users click on it it will download a piece of software which could allow their machine to be taken over by malicious hackers.
In one day, Websense has seen 90,000 such messages.
MySpace surrenders battle against Facebook
The company’s new CEO—ex-Facebook exec Chris DeWolfe—tells the Financial Times that the company now sees itself as more of a music and entertainment hub than a social networking site. “Facebook is not our competition,” he says. “We’re very focused on a different space.”
MySpace has seen its share of social networking traffic tumble to 30% as of September, down from 66% just a year earlier. Though it’s still one of the web’s most visited sites, boasting 100 million unique users, it is well behind Facebook’s 300 million.
So rather than compare itself, MySpace is looking to capitalize on its popularity with musicians—it’s just inked a deal with iTunes allowing users to buy songs without leaving the site.