Social Networking Firms Sign Up To Kids' Protection Deal

The major social networking companies have signed a European Commission-brokered agreement to do more to protect under 18s using their services.

Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, Yahoo!, Microsoft and others have all committed to change the way their services operate to help to give young people and children extra protection from privacy violations and from predatory contacts from potential sexual abusers.

The companies will introduce a 'report abuse' button on their sites for the reporting of inappropriate contact from another person; set all the details of under 18s to 'private' by default; stop profiles of under 18s from appearing in search functions within the service or through search engines; ensure that privacy controls are prominent and accessible; and prevent anyone under 13 from using the service at all.

"[The agreement] is an important step forward towards making our children's clicks on social networking sites safer in Europe," said Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner for Information Society and Media. "Social networking has enormous potential to flourish in Europe, to help boost our economy and make our society more interactive – as long as children and teenagers have the trust and the right tools to remain safe when making new 'friends' and sharing personal details online."

"I will closely monitor the implementation of today's agreement and the Commission will come back to this matter in a year's time," she said.

The banning of children under 13 from using the services chooses the same age bar as is used in the US. The Child Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) there makes it illegal to collect data on children under 13 without parental consent.

The Commission said that 41.7 million people in Europe use social networking sites and that this number could rise to 107.4 million by 2012.