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SPEECH/ 10/22

Viviane Reding

Member of the European Commission responsible for Information Society and Media

Think before you post! How to make social networking sites safer for children and teenagers?

Figures and graphics available in PDF and WORD PROCESSED

Safer Internet Day

Strasbourg, 9 February 2010

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am pleased to open the 7 th edition of Safer Internet Day, together with Mrs Angelilli. I am particularly grateful to the European Parliament for hosting this important event. Allow me also to congratulate Mrs Angelilli on her appointment as the European Parliament's Mediator for International Parental Child Abduction. This is a clear sign that children’s rights will remain high on the agenda of the European Parliament. Jointly we will ensure that children's rights are kept high in the European Union’s agenda. It is one of our most important duties as politicians to ensure the protection of children’s rights.

The Safer Internet Day is now a global event celebrated in more than 60 countries worldwide. This year’s theme, Think before you post! shows our determination to empowering young people to manage their online identity in a responsible way. Why is this important you may ask?

Most of the 75% of Europe's youngsters who go online 1 are enthusiastic users of social networking sites. These communication tools offer children and teenagers new opportunities to be creative and to express themselves freely. However publishing personal information or pictures may lead to embarrassing or even traumatic situations. Young people do not always realize the risk that online images and videos may circulate beyond their control and knowledge. Posting photos from what may have been an unforgettably fun moment may have future unintended consequences such as the way a potential employer will consider job applications years from now. That future employer may be looking to an innocent teenager moment and wrongfully profile the job applicant.

It is the individual, whether an adult or a child, who is primarily responsible for protecting the privacy of their data. It is therefore important to empower children and teenagers to be in control of their own online identity.

This has been the primary purpose of the Safer Internet Programme since 1999. For over 10 years Safer Internet has been supporting multiple awareness-raising campaigns.

  • First, the INSAFE network of awareness centres has been informing children, parents and teachers about online risks, such as privacy risks, cyberbullying and grooming. In most of cases the INSAFE centres have also been managing helplines giving children and parents personalised advice.

  • Secondly, and in response to an increase in the numbers of reports of "cyberbullying' the INSAFE network ran the "Block bullying online" campaign encouraging teenagers to report cases of online harassment. his campaign was broadcast on more than 200 TV channels and runs in 200 websites in Europe.

Awareness-raising is always a good start but more also needs to be done by other stakeholders such as industry and providers. Industry needs to make available to children and teenagers the tools and the information enabling them to behave in a responsible way online.

For over five years, I have been strongly encouraging technology and service providers to adopt self-regulation and sign up to best practices. I am pleased to see that two major self-regulatory initiatives in this field are now bearing fruit:

  • First, the " European Framework on Safer Mobile Use by Younger Teenagers and Children " in 2007. This self-regulatory agreement by mobile operators is now yielding significant results. 80% of operators put in place measures to control child access to adult content and more than 65% of the signatories produce educational material about safer mobile use. Implementation of this agreement at national level will continue to be monitored.

  • Second, the " Safer Social Networking Principles for the EU ". This is the agreement on social networking sites signed by 20 social networking companies running major sites in Europe such as Facebook, Myspace Netlog, Piczo, Skyrock, Dailymotion, Tuenti, VZnet Netzwerke, and Microsoft. The aim is clear: to improve the safety of minors whenever using social networking sites in Europe. Most of these companies have provided the Commission with publicly available self-declarations on how they are implementing this agreement.

But self-regulation is only effective when it is properly enforced. A year ago, in Luxembourg, I promised to evaluate the progress made in a year's time. Today the results of an independent assessment of the implementation of the Safer Social Networking Principles are presented and discussed. Let me stress the most important findings.

Most of the companies have taken steps to empower minors to deal with potential online risks. This is good news but is it enough?

  • 19 out of 23 services providers contain information which is specifically targeted to children and teenagers and most of it is easy to find and to understand. 12 sites show safety tips when users are about to upload a picture on the site. This is exactly the kind of message that will help teenagers to Think before they post!

  • 24 out of 25 services make it easy for users to block other users and make it easy for users to change their privacy settings. Users can therefore choose whether the entire world or only their friends are able to see what they post online.

However, some important measures have not yet been implemented:

  • Less than half of the signatories make minors' profiles visible only to their friends by default,

  • Only half of the tested sites ensure that minors are not-searchable via search engines 2 .

  • Only 9 out of 22 3 sites respond to complaints submitted by minors asking for help.

I expect companies who signed up to the Safer Social Networking Principles to take rapid action to improve this situation.

Looking back at the last five years, I am pleased that we achieved a lot of real progress. But much remains to be done. We cannot be complacent when the protection of children is at stake. I am sure that my colleague Neelie Kroes and I, in my role as Commissioner in charge of Children's Rights will build on the work we did together.

In my future mandate, I will continue to use our competences to the largest possible extent to enhance the European Union’s strategy for the right of the child and make it an ambitious part of my tenure. I will also strongly focus on the protection of personal data and its effective enforcement. One of my top priorities will be to prepare legislation to respond to new technological challenges, building on the European core data protection and privacy principles, empowering individuals and strengthening their rights. And I will specifically consider the needs of children in the online world.

The results of a recent public consultation on the future of data protection show that many citizens want more rigorous consent requirements in relation to minors in the online world. I will also work closely with the national data protection authorities to monitor how data protection rules are implemented in practice.

Our knowledge-based society, where innovative services such as social networks increasingly play a central role in the lives of the citizens, offers fantastic new opportunities. However, and to fully enjoy these opportunities we need to ensure that such services are built on the basis of certain principles such as transparency, awareness and most importantly that they comply with fundamental rights.

I will not be able to stay with you, as I will attend the Parliament’s plenary session this morning. I wanted nevertheless to thank all of you for your continued commitment to make the Internet what it should be: a safe place for our children and young people, a place where they can safely enjoy themselves, learn, communicate and have fun.

Thank you.

1 :

2008 Eurobarometer results "Towards a safer use of the Internet for children in the EU – a parents' perspective"

2 :

For 3 sites this is measure is not applicable

3 :

Some services could not be tested on this point for practical and ethical reasons

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