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European Commission - Press release

Digital Agenda: social networks can do much more to protect minors' privacy - Commission report

Brussels, 30 September 2011 - Only two out of nine social networking sites (Habbo Hotel and Xbox Live) have default settings which make minors' personal profiles accessible only to their approved list of contacts according to a new round of tests undertaken for the European Commission.

However, a majority of sites tested do give youngsters age-appropriate safety information, guidance and/or educational materials specifically targeted at minors and respond to requests for help. Seven sites responded to requests for help, a majority in less than a day.

Two sites (Dailymotion and Windows Live) ensure that minors can only be contacted by default by friends via public or private messages. In all the sites tested, minors can be sent friend requests by anyone. On six of the sites, minors' profiles can be directly accessed by friends of friends. All sites tested provide a shorter and more child-friendly version of their Terms of Use or Service.

Neelie Kroes, Vice President of the European Commission for the Digital Agenda said: “Young people enjoy and derive great benefits from social networking online but are often not conscious enough of risks such as grooming. Social networking sites need to take seriously their responsibilities towards these youngsters. I intend to address these issues later this year in a comprehensive strategy on making the internet a safer place for children through a combination of protective and empowerment measures."

The report looks specifically at implementation of the "Safer Social Networking Principles for the EU" by blogging (Skyrock) and gaming (Xbox Live) platforms, photo and video sharing platforms (YouTube, Dailymotion, Flickr), virtual worlds (Habbo Hotel, Stardoll), platforms that have some social networking functionalities (Windows Live) and platforms that allow the creation of personal profiles with the possibility of uploading blog entries, photos and updates (Yahoo! Pulse). The tests were carried out between March and June 2011.

The latest report complements the one published in June 2011 on implementation of the Principles by fourteen dedicated social networking sites (see IP/11/762).

The Commission is reviewing protection of minors online from such risks as grooming and cyber-bullying as part of the objective set by the Digital Agenda for Europe (see IP/10/581, MEMO/10/199 and MEMO/10/200) to enhance trust in the Internet. The results of the two surveys of implementation of the Safer Social Networking Principles will be taken into account by the Commission in a comprehensive initiative to empower and protect children when using new technologies due later this year.

Background

"Safer Social Networking Principles for the EU" are a self-regulatory agreement brokered by the Commission in 2009 to keep children safe online (see IP/09/232).

Twenty one companies have signed the Principles to date: Arto, Bebo, Dailymotion, Facebook, Giovani, Google, Hyves, Microsoft Europe, MySpace, Nasza-klasa, Netlog, One, Rate, Skyrock, VZnet Netzwerke, Stardoll, Sulake, Tuenti, Yahoo! Europe and Zap. Wer-kennt-wen signed-up in November 2010 but was not tested in the current assessment.

The latest report found that:

  • Only Habbo Hotel and Xbox Live have default settings which make minors' personal and identifiable information visible by default only to their approved list of contacts, regardless of how much information about themselves is posted on their profiles.

  • In the other seven websites tested results showed that a considerable amount of personal information - including information added by users after registration - was displayed by default to users beyond the minor's approved contacts list. This information did not necessarily lead to immediate identification of minors, but could do so.

  • In six of the services, minors' profiles could be directly accessed by friends of friends. Unregistered users could get access to minors' profiles via their blog, or a video or picture the minor had posted online. Once a minor’s blog, individual videos, pictures, video channels or photostream are found (e.g. via an external search engine or via a link sent via e-mail, etc.), access to the minor’s profile is granted.

  • Eight out of the nine sites tested provide safety information, guidance and/or educational materials specifically targeted at minors (all except Windows Live). In Windows Live the information provided was aimed rather at parents or guardians, although it could also be easily understood by young people.

  • Dailymotion, Flickr, Habbo Hotel, Yahoo! Pulse, Skyrock, Stardoll and YouTube provide safety information for children and parents which is both easy to find and to understand.

  • By default, only in one of the nine services tested could profiles of minors be found by name searches either via internal or external search engines (e.g. Google, Bing or Yahoo!).

On several of these websites user profiles are not the main point of entry or of interest for users. This is especially true of photo-sharing and video-sharing platforms where users would typically visit a photostream or a video channel, but not necessarily a user’s profile.

The Safer Social Networking Principles for the EU and the assessment of their implementation:

http://ec.europa.eu/information_society/activities/social_networking/eu_action/implementation_princip_2011/index_en.htm

Safer Internet Programme:

http://ec.europa.eu/information_society/activities/sip/index_en.htm

Digital Agenda website:

http://ec.europa.eu/digital-agenda

Neelie Kroes' website: http://ec.europa.eu/commission_2010-2014/kroes/

Follow Neelie Kroes on Twitter: http://twitter.com/neeliekroeseu

Contacts :

Jonathan Todd (+32 2 299 41 07)

Linda Cain (+32 2 299 90 19)


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