Social Networking: Commission brokers agreement among major web companies

Leading web firms have signed for the first time a European agreement to improve the safety of under 18s who use social networking sites. These include Arto, Bebo, Dailymotion, Facebook, Giovani.it, Google/YouTube, Hyves, Microsoft Europe, Myspace, Nasza-klaza.pl, Netlog, One.lt, Skyrock, StudiVZ, Sulake/Habbo Hotel, Yahoo!Europe, and Zap.lu.

Social networking sites are an emerging social and economic phenomenon, attracting 41.7 million regular users in Europe and changing the way we interact with each other on the web. The use of social networks has grown over the past year by 35% in Europe and is expected to more than double to 107.4 million users by 2012.

To make sure that social networks continue to grow, young users need to feel safe when expanding their networks or sharing any personal information. The agreement signed by 17 social networking sites in Luxembourg at the Safer Internet Day, organised by the European Commission, will empower teenagers to deal with potential risks they may face online, like cyberbullying or revealing personal information.

Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner for Information Society and Media, commented: “The Commission applauds this first European agreement on Social Networking. It is an important step forward towards making our children’s clicks on social networking sites safer in Europe. Social networking has enormous potential to flourish in Europe, to help boost our economy and make our society more interactive – as long as children and teenagers have the trust and the right tools to remain safe when making new ‘friends’ and sharing personal details online. I will closely monitor the implementation of today’s agreement and the Commission will come back to this matter in a year’s time.”

Today, Europe’s major social networking sites have come together for the first time at this year’s Safer Internet Day to recognise their responsibility and identify potential risks on their sites for under 18s. These include cyberbullying (harassing children on internet sites or via mobile messages), grooming (when an adult befriends a child with the intention of committing sexual abuse) and risky behaviour like revealing personal information.

They aim to limit these risks by: Providing an easy to use and accessible “report abuse” button, allowing users to report inappropriate contact from or conduct by another user with one click; Making sure that the full online profiles and contact lists of website users who are registered as under 18s are set to “private” by default. This will make it harder for people with bad intentions to get in touch with the young person; Ensuring that private profiles of users under the age of 18 are not searchable (on the websites or via search engines); Guaranteeing that privacy options are prominent and accessible at all times, so that users can easily work out if just their friends, or the entire world, can see what they post online; Preventing under-age users from using their services: if a social networking site targets teenagers over 13, it should be difficult for people below that age to register.

Social networking sites will inform the Commission about their individual safety policies and how they will put these principles in place by April 2009.