Brussels, 9 February 2010
Safer Internet Day 2010: European Commission assesses social networking sites' approach to safety of under 18s
When did the Commission start working on social networking sites?
The Commission convened a Social Networking Task Force in April 2008 with operators of social networking sites used by minors. Different internet companies, NGOs (Adiconsum from Italy, Childnet International and CHIS based in the UK, e-Enfance from France, Save the Children Denmark) and researchers (EU Kids Online network) discussed children's safety on social networking sites. In September 2008 the Commission gathered world experts for the Safer Internet Forum ( MEMO/08/587 ).
As a result, 18 major social networks active in Europe showed their commitment to child safety by signing the "Safer Social Networking Principles for the EU" in February 2009 ( IP/09/232 ). 2 more signatories joined in June 2009. The Commission believes that self- or co-regulation is the most efficient way to keep children safe online.
How many social networking sites have signed the Safer Social Networking Principles for the EU?
20 social networking sites in Europe have signed: Arto, Bebo, Dailymotion, Facebook, Giovani.it, Google/YouTube, Hyves, Microsoft Europe, MySpace, Nasza-klaza.pl, Netlog, One.lt, Piczo, Rate, Skyrock, Sulake, Tuenti, VZnet Netzwerk Ltd., Yahoo!Europe, and Zap.lu.
Which companies are monitored?
25 websites run by the 20 signatories have been tested: Arto, Bebo, Dailymotion, Facebook, Giovani.it, YouTube (Google), Hyves, Xbox Live (Microsoft), Windows Live (Microsoft), MySpace, Nasza-klaza.pl, Netlog, One.lt, Piczo, Ratee , Skyrock, SchülerVZ (VZnet), StudiVZ (VZnet), meinVZ (VZnet), Habbo Hotel (Sulake), IRC Galleria (Sulake), Tuenti , Yahoo!Answers, Yahoo!Flickr and Zap.lu
How are these companies monitored?
The Commission is closely monitoring the implementation of this agreement. It invited external experts to draw up a methodology and to assess the implementation of the Safer Social Networking Principles.
The report published today is based on a 2-step process:
1. An analysis of the self-declarations submitted by the signatories to explain their individual safety policies.
2. A test performed on each of the 25 websites. The test of the sites is conducted from a user/child-perspective by a team of 2 lead experts and 13 national experts testing all sites in their main language (e.g. One.lt was tested by a Lithuanian speaker, Tuenti by a Spanish speaker).
Tests assessed whether the information targeted at children is accessible and easy to understand; whether it is possible to block other users, remove comments and photos from the profile; whether the minor's profile can be searched on the site and through a common search engine; and whether the default settings of the profile, if they exist, can be changed easily. A help request was also sent to the sites, and the speed and quality of the answer were analysed.
The tests were carried out in October-November 2009.
What are the main principles the industry agreed on when signing the agreement?
Raise awareness of safety messages in a prominent, clear and age appropriate manner.
Ensure that services are age appropriate for the audience.
Empower users through options which make their online presence safer for example by making sure that the full online profiles and contact lists of website users who are registered as under 18 are set to "private" by default and are not searchable.
Provide an easy to use and accessible "report" button, allowing users to report inappropriate contact or conduct by another user.
Respond to notifications of illegal content or conduct.
Enable users to employ a safe approach to privacy (in particular through making privacy setting options visible at all times).
Review illegal or prohibited content/conduct through moderation tools, filtering software or community alerts.
How many people use social networking sites in Europe?
In December 2008, 211 million users older than 15 – almost 75% of internet users in that age group – visited a social networking site. In Europe, France’s social networking audience (21.7 million visitors in December 2008) was the third largest behind the U.K. (29.3 million visitors) and Germany (24.9 million visitors), according to the ComScore report of February 2009.
Facebook has taken a leading position in the social networking category across the majority of countries in Europe (11 out of 17 reported in ComScore report of April 2009). In parallel with successful companies based in the US like Facebook, Youtube and Myspace, European companies are doing well in this sector. Finland-based Sulake claims that 158 million registered users and 16.5 million unique users worldwide visit Habbo each month (December 2009). Belgian-based Netlog claims more than 56 million members all over Europe, and Dailymotion 60 million unique visitors. Other European sites include Skyrock in France, Tuenti in Spain, Hyves in the Netherlands, Arto.dk in Denmark and Nasza-klaza in Poland.
What are the risks of an increased use of Social Networking Sites by children?
75% of Europe's youngsters were online in 2008 ( Eurobarometer survey ) and 50% of European teenagers give out personal information online ( EUKids online final report ). Photos and videos remain online and can be seen by anybody, even years after they have been posted. For example, 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.
Additional risks children and teenagers face include grooming (where adults can pass for young people with the intent of abusing children), accidentally finding inappropriate content, abuse of personal or private information or cyber-bullying.
Therefore, children and teenagers need to be empowered to manage their online identity in a responsible way by using the privacy settings offered by social networking services, selecting friends online that they can trust, publishing their own photos after thinking carefully about the potential consequences, and pictures of their friends with their permission. This is why Safer Internet Day 2010 focuses on the motto: "Think before you post".
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