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European Commission Brokers Safety Deal with 17 Social Networking Sites

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Seventeen leading Web sites have agreed to put in place safeguards to protect young people from unwittingly risking their privacy and safety in Europe. They include Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, the French video Web site Dailymotion, and Habbo Hotel, a virtual world for children.

Online social networking has grown more than 35 percent in Europe over the last year. About 42 million people are regular users, a number expected to more than double by 2012.

Under a deal signed during a ceremony by the European Commission, the 17 companies agreed to ensure that:

  • Users can report abuse with a single click;
  • The default setting for online profiles and contact lists is set to "private" for users younger than 18;
  • Private profiles of users younger than 18 will no longer be searchable; and
  • Privacy options will be more prominent so users know who can see what they've posted online--only their friends or the whole world.

The companies promised significant progress towards implementing the agreement by April 2009. In some cases the policies have already been put in place as networks try to protect themselves against claims of privacy violation and illegal activity. MySpace has purged 90,000 sex offenders over the past two years.

Viviane Reding, the commissioner for information society and the media, called the agreement an "important step" in making social networking safer for children.

The commission has also launched a campaign against cyber-bullying--harassment via the Web or mobile phone. This typically takes the form of hostile text messages or photos or videos posted to embarrass users. As part of the campaign, a video clip about a young girl being targeted by cyber-bullies is airing on public and private TV channels across Europe.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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