50% of European teenagers give out personal information on the web – according to an EU study – which can remain online forever and can be seen by anybody.
Today, Safer Internet Day, the European Commission is passing a message to teenagers: “Think before you post!” It welcomed actions to protect children using social networking websites taken by the 20 companies who signed the Safer Social Networking Principles last year. Most of these companies have empowered minors to tackle online risks by making it easier to change privacy settings, block users or delete unwanted comments and content. Yet more needs to be done to protect children online, the Commission says. Less than half of social networking companies (40%) make profiles of under-18 users visible only to their friends by default and only one third replied to user reports asking for help.
“If we want children to think before they post, social networking companies should post the right information using the right language. Last year the European Commission urged companies to act, and I am glad that many have heeded this call,” said EU Commissioner for Information Society and Media, Viviane Reding. “However I expect all companies to do more. Minors’ profiles need to be set to private by default and questions or abuse reports have to receive quick and appropriate responses. The internet is now vital to our children, and it is the responsibility of all to make it safe.”
At last year’s Safer Internet Day, social networking companies recognised the need for young users – and their parents – to feel safe when socializing online and signed the Safer Social Networking Principles. These resulted from discussions set up by the European Commission in April 2008 with social networking sites, NGOs and researchers. 18 companies signed the Safer Social Networking Principles in February 2009 and were joined by another two in June 2009.
One year on, the Commission has published a report on the implementation of the Principles on the 25 sites run by the signatories – Arto, Bebo, Dailymotion, Facebook, Giovani.it, YouTube, Hyves, Windows Live, Xboxlive, Myspace, Nasza-klaza.pl, Netlog, One.lt, Piczo, Rate.ee, Skyrock, Sch??lerVZ StudiVZ MeinVZ, Habbo, IRC Galleria, Tuenti, Yahoo!Answers, Flickr, and Zap.lu.
Findings show that 19 out of 23 sites provide safety tips and information specifically targeted towards children and/or teenagers (this measure is non applicable for 2 services). This information is both easy to find and easy to understand on 14 sites: YouTube, Habbo Hotel, Hyves, IRC Galleria, MySpace, nasza-klasa, Netlog, One, Rate, Sch??lerVZ, Skyrock, Yahoo!Answers, Yahoo!Flickr, Zap.
The report also shows that most of the companies empower minors to deal with potential online risks and employ a safe approach to privacy by:
- Making it easy for users to block other users and remove comments from their profiles;
- Making privacy options easy to change so that users can choose whether only their friends or the entire world can see what they post online;
- Giving users control over the display of their online status (which allows other users to see whether they are online or not).
However, there has been less systematic implementation of other equally important measures designed to protect privacy:
- 40% of social networking sites assessed make minors’ personal information visible only by their friends by default including: Sch??lerVZ, Facebook, Tuenti, Giovani, Flickr, Yahoo Answers, One, Habbo, Windows Live and MySpace
- Only 11 out of 22 make it impossible for the private profiles of minors to be found through search engines including: Arto, Bebo, Facebook, YouTube, MySpace, Piczo, Sch??lerVZ, Windows Live, Yahoo! Answers, Yahoo!Flickr and Zap
- While 19 sites out of 25 have a link for reports available at all times, only 9 (out of 22) responded to complaints submitted during the assessment including: Arto, Dailymotion, YouTube, Habbo Hotel, Hyves, IRC Galleria, MySpace, Rate, Windows Live. There is therefore an urgent need for better services to respond to users’ reports asking for help.