EU criticises Facebook et al over children's profiles
Social networks including Facebook have been criticised by the European Commission for failing to protect children sufficiently through stricter default privacy settings.
According to the commission's survey of 14 social networks, only Bebo and MySpace ensured that young people's profiles were accessible only to their online friends by default. Just four sites – Bebo, MySpace, Netlog and SchuelerVZ – allowed children to be contacted only by friends. The other 10 sites let children be contacted by friends of friends, or non-friends through personal messages.
Commission Vice-President Neelie Kroes, responsible 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."
Twelve of the 14 websites, all except Rate and Zap, made it impossible for children's profiles to appear in search engines such as Google and Yahoo!, compared to six in 2010 – although most do make profiles visible in the results of internal searches. All but one of the sites, the exception being Arto, provided safety information and guidance specifically aimed at minors, and in general the commission found that the information was clear and age appropriate – despite often being difficult to find.
Fourteen social networks were surveyed between December 2010 and January 2011, including Arto, Bebo, Facebook, Giovani.it, Hyves, Myspace, Nasza-klaza.pl, Netlog, One.lt, Rate.ee, SchülerVZ, IRC Galleria, Tuenti and Zap.lu. Nine more will be tested later this year. 21 companies have signed the commission's Safer Social Networking Principles, a self-regulatory system begun in 2009.
Kroes said: "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."