Social network sites fail to protect kids online

Social network sites fail to protect kids online

Many social networking sites don’t offer children enough protection from unwanted contact with strangers online, according to a study commissioned by European Commissioner Neelie Kroes (Digital Agenda).

Only two social networking sites (Bebo and MySpace) tested on behalf of the European Commission have default settings to make minors’ profiles accessible only to their approved list of contacts and only 4 sites ensure minors can be contacted by default by friends only (Bebo, MySpace, Netlog and SchuelerVZ).

However, a majority of 14 social networking sites tested do give minors age-appropriate safety information, respond to requests for help and prevent minors’ profiles from being searched via external search engines. The number of minors using social networking sites in the EU is growing – currently 77% of 13-16 year olds and 38% of 9-12 year olds who use the Internet.

Neelie Kroes, Vice President of the European Commission for the Digital Agenda said: “I am disappointed that most social networking sites are failing to ensure that minors’ profiles are accessible only to their approved contacts by default. I will be urging them to make a clear commitment to remedy this in a revised version of the self-regulatory framework we are currently discussing. This is not only to protect minors from unwanted contacts but also to protect their online reputation. Youngsters do not fully understand the consequences of disclosing too much of their personal lives online. Education and parental guidance are necessary, but we need to back these up with protection until youngsters can make decisions based on full awareness of the consequences.”

The possibility of tagging people in pictures, offered by most social networking services, makes it very easy to search for a person’s photos online. Teenagers may face other risks online such as grooming and cyber-bullying. Children and teenagers need appropriate safety tools to manage their online identity in a responsible way.

The tests, carried out between December 2010 and January 2011, looked at 14 websites: Arto, Bebo, Facebook, Giovani.it, Hyves, Myspace, Nasza-klaza.pl, Netlog, One.lt, Rate.ee, SchülerVZ, IRC Galleria, Tuenti and Zap.lu. Another 9 sites will be tested later this year.

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