In a complaint filed Monday, City Attorney Dennis Herrera’s office alleges that MeetMe has inadequate privacy protections that have made it “a tool of choice” for sexual predators to target minors.
The filing states that the New Hope, Pa.-based company violates California’s Unfair Competition Law by using legally invalid consent from youths ages 13 to 17 and distributing their real-time location and private information. It is designed for meeting strangers, which is unlike sites such as Facebook that are intended for staying in touch and reconnecting with people.
In recent months, MeetMe has come up with “alarming regularity” as a key factor in sex crimes against children — “much more so than any other social-media site we’re aware of,” said City Attorney’s Office spokesman Matt Dorsey.
“Our investigation found that MeetMe is the industry’s worst offender in terms of its privacy policies and practices, especially when it comes to minors,” Dorsey said.
At least three sex crime cases have occurred in California in the past year involving an adult who met a minor on the social network, according to the City Attorney’s Office. The office is unaware of any criminal cases in San Francisco, Dorsey said, “but it’s also hard to know if there are unreported victims out there.”
Of the networking platform’s more than 40 million users, 25 percent are under 18 years old, and its privacy terms are written in such a way that many youths do not understand that their personal information is unprotected, according to Herrera’s office.
“In short, anyone — including sexual predators, stalkers and other criminals — can sign up to use the MeetMe app and can input any birth date they want, and once they do, MeetMe enables them to browse through photographs, locations and other personal information of teenagers who are in close proximity,” the complaint states.
MeetMe CEO Geoff Cook would not comment on the pending litigation. In a statement Monday, he said the company cares “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,” Cook said, noting that the company employs a team that “responds to reports from our users and work closely with law enforcement when appropriate to assist in their investigations.”
The City Attorney’s Office wants MeetMe to pay $2,500 in civil penalties for each unlawful act in California and halt its “deceptive business practices” around releasing minors’ sensitive information.
Herrera is among four city attorneys, the California attorney general and 58 district attorneys in the state who have the authority to police the marketplace for illegal conduct.