Social networking: major web companies sign European agreement

Social networking: major web companies sign European agreement

The signatories to the agreement are: 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.

The use of social networking has grown by 35% in the past year. These sites now attract 41.7 million regular users in Europe, and this is expected to more than double to 107.4 million users by 2012.

To ensure that social networks continue to grow, young users need to feel safe when expanding their networks or sharing any personal information.

The agreement, signed yesterday in Luxembourg at the Safer Internet Day organised by the European Commission, will empower teenagers to deal with potential online risks.

Europe's major social networking sites have recognised their responsibility to identify potential risks on their sites for under-18s – risks that 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
  • 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
  • Ensuring that private profiles of under-18 users are not searchable (on the websites or via search engines)
  • Guaranteeing that privacy options are prominent and accessible at all times
  • 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.

This new agreement is the result of discussions in the Social Networking Task Force set up by the European Commission in April last year. This group brought together social networking sites, NGOs and researchers, and is a good example of industry self-regulation, an approach favoured by the Commission if effectively implemented.

Similar initiatives in this area include the Social Networking guidance from UK Home Office of April 2008, and separate agreements between Myspace, and Facebook with 49 State Attorneys General in the US.

Elle Todd, an associate at business law firm, Olswang, commented: "Although prudent,this agreementdoesn't bring many surprises. Most social networking providers would already haveprocesses in place that adhere to – or even go beyond – such measures.

"It also swerves some of the more complex issues such as responsibilityfor themoderation ofcontent and activities. This isunsurprising, since the law currently dictates that a provider who starts to moderate potentially becomes liable for any third party illegal activity on the site, whereas if they simply respond to reports of abuse and take content down, they are not.

"However,theinitiativedoes set a good precedent of best practice on basic issues for smaller networking sites or those who incorporate such features into their other services."


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