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Law enforcement is hailing Facebook for using its little-known data monitoring technology to spot a suspicious conversation about sex between a man in his early thirties and a 13-year-old girl from Florida.

According to Reuters, Facebook software on March 9 raised the red flag when it picked up on a conversation about sex between the man and the girl.

It’s easy to see why Facebook doesn’t talk about it much: the last thing the company wants is for its users to feel like they’re being eavesdropped on, Sullivan said: To avoid coming off as eavesdroppers, Facebook also avoids probing what it interprets as pre-existing relationships, Sullivan said.

Reining in its monitoring technology is understandable in light of not wanting to be perceived as Big Brother, but as Reuters pointed out, a low false-positive rate has the serious downside of letting many dangerous communications go through unflagged.

At the time, the New York Times reported that Skout was fully aware that minors were using its site.

The man was chatting about sex with the girl and planned to meet her after middle-school classes the next day, according to Reuters.

There’s no lack of security to protect against the type of age falsification that creates problems on Facebook and sites such as Skout.

Reuters pointed to one such provider, Aristotle International Inc., which offers methods such as having a parent vouch for a child with a token credit card payment. The downsides of such technology: it bleeds away sites’ profits because it costs money, and it drives away children who crave unfettered freedom of communication.

Duncan estimates that for every predator the police intercept due to tips from Facebook and other companies, another ten get through the system undetected.

And while Facebook limits how visible children are to its adult users – minors don’t show up in public searches, only friends can chat with them, and only friends’ friends can send them messages – children are all too capable of lying about their age and pretending to be adults.

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